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December 4, 2011EVANSTON-The silence in the post-game press conference said it all.
Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said that his team played "about as bad as you can play, offensively and defensively," after getting destroyed, 69-41, by No. 7 Baylor at Welsh-Ryan Arena. He then opened it up for questions and heard nothing but crickets from the assembled media.
"It's that kinda feel, isn't it?" Carmody said. "They smacked us pretty good."
The Wildcats stepped up in class to take on the 7-1 Bears, and they got flattened. If this game had been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped it at some point in the second half -- maybe after Perry Jones III threw down a monstrous one-handed dunk to extend the Bears' lead to 61-29 with 6:13 left.
This was a barometer game for the Wildcats, playing, by far, the best team on their non-conference schedule. Northwestern was hoping to get the kind of signature win over a Top 10 team to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume in March.
Instead, the Wildcats got a game that they hope the tournament committee members just flat-out forget about when they fill out their brackets.
It would likely taken a Herculean effort for Northwestern to upset the bigger and more athletic Bears, but the Wildcats came up with their worst shooting performance of the season, hitting just 24.1 percent (14-of-58) from the floor as a team. The Wildcats couldn't get any of their signature back-door cuts against the long Baylor defenders, so they had to rely on their three-point shooting.
And that shooting abandoned them. Northwestern hit just 15.4 percent of its three-pointers (4-of-26). Marksman John Shurna was a woeful 0-of-7 from beyond the arc, missing several open looks, and he finished 4-of-19 from the floor overall for just 11 points. Drew Crawford hit three of the Wildcats' four threes but shot just 5-of-16 from the field himself, for a team-high 15 points.
When the Wildcats summoned the courage to drive into the paint, their shots were often swatted away by Quincy Acy, who had six of Baylor's nine blocks and finished with a game-high 16 points.
"We ran into a buzzsaw," said a beleaguered Carmody.
Baylor, meanwhile, shot the lights out, hitting 60.4 percent (29-of-48) of its field goals. That will happen when seven of them are dunks, 12 others are layups, and the team scores a total of 46 points in the paint.
Remarkably, the only area where the Cats were superior was on the offensive glass, where they held a 16-5 advantage.
Baylor took charge from the outset, when Crawford admitted that the Wildcats "just came out flat." After Luka Mirkovic scored the first basket of the game, the Bears went on a 10-2 run that included a pair of uncontested dunks inside by Acy and Jones III.
The Wildcats pulled to within 19-16 after a layup by Shurna with 8:36 left in the opening period, but Baylor then closed out the first half with a 19-5 run to take a comfortable 38-21 lead into halftime.
Northwestern never got closer the rest of the way and watched the margin balloon to as high as 32.
Carmody couldn't find a silver lining for his team to build on after this undressing. He said that although he finds NU football coach Pat Fitzgerald's mantra of "flush it" to be "a little too graphic" for his tastes, he thinks his team will just have to forget this game and move on.
Baylor coach Scott Drew, however, offered a ray of hope for the Wildcats.
"They missed some shots early that were good looks," he said. "This is the best Northwestern team that I've seen."
Those words will offer little comfort to a Northwestern team licking its wounds.