Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said his team was better defensively in the second half. That was a bit of an understatement.
Tyler Wahl paced a balanced attack with a career-high 14 points and the 10th-ranked Badgers pulled away in the second half for a 68-52 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night.
Wisconsin allowed just 18 second-half points in holding the Wildcats to their lowest point total of the season.
"I thought we did a better job of stopping the ball and not letting them get in the paint," Gard said. "I thought the first half, we didn’t execute well enough in some of the ball-screen situations. Second half, we were better. We talked about some of those things at halftime. The second 20, I thought we were more aggressive in the ball screens and eliminated some of that dribble penetration."
The Badgers gained control with a 12-0 run midway through the second half. Micah Potter’s 3-pointer put Wisconsin up 56-39.
Northwestern went scoreless for almost six minutes until Chase Audige’s 3-pointer made it 56-42 with 10:26 left.
D’Mitrik Trice added 12 points, Brad Davison 11 and Potter 10 for Wisconsin (12-3, 6-2 Big Ten).
Audige had 16 points and Miller Kopp 10 for Northwestern (6-7, 3-6), which has lost six straight.
"I thought we had a lot of self-inflicted wounds tonight, that every time we kind of had a chance to maybe get back into the game or maybe make a little push, we had just some critical breakdowns on either end, some costly turnovers, a couple breakdowns late in clocks defensively," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "That’s how Wisconsin is. They make you pay for your mistakes. That’s why they’re a really good team."
Wahl opened the second half with a three-point play to put Wisconsin up 44-34, but the Badgers missed their next nine shots before Wahl hit a 3-pointer from the top to make it 47-39.
"I feel very comfortable," Wahl said. "I feel confident. It’s kind of like my second season running through the offense, knowing the plays and having that connection with my teammates. So, yeah, I feel very comfortable and confident in our offense this year."
The Wildcats failed to capitalize during that stretch, missing four shots and committing three turnovers.
Northwestern, which scored 18 points in the paint in the first half, managed just four after the break. The Wildcats shot just 6 of 22 in the second half.
"I feel like the first half, they were getting buckets right at the rim and in the paint," Wahl said. "That was kind of an emphasis that we had, keep them out of the paint. That’s our emphasis when we go into the games, and we tightened that up and that was kind of able to help us out."
Wisconsin took its biggest lead of the first half at 29-17 when Jonathan Davis scored on a layup to cap an 11-4 run. Northwestern rallied within 36-32 on Audige’s 3-pointer.
The victory over Northwestern might not move the needle for the Badgers as much as Saturday’s game at home against No. 15 Ohio State.
Northwestern: After a grueling stretch of seven consecutive games against ranked opponents, the Wildcats next face Penn State, which is 0-5 in the Big Ten and has lost five straight.
Wisconsin: Even without fans in the stands, the Badgers remain tough at home, improving to 25-2 at the Kohl Center over the last two seasons. They have won 17 of their last 18 home games.
Northwestern is at Penn State on Saturday.
Wisconsin hosts No. 15 Ohio State on Saturday.