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January 6, 2013

Tempo can't rescue NU vs. Minnesota

Northwestern, its roster ravaged by injury, unveiled its new slow-down offense on Sunday night against Minnesota, and the Wildcats were able to control the tempo and keep the score close against the 13th-ranked team in the country.

For a half.

But the Gophers eventually blew open the game in the second half and coasted to a 69-51 win behind 19 points by Austin Hollins.

Thursday night's blowout loss to Michigan proved that Northwestern, without Drew Crawford, would have trouble scoring against better Big Ten teams. Coach Bill Carmody said in the post-game press conference that the Wildcats would run more high-post offense in an effort to slow the tempo in future games.

He wasn't kidding.

The Wildcats transported themselves to the 1950s, it seemed, by waiting to run their offense until 10 seconds remained on the shot clock. Carmody's strategy worked wonders in the first half as the frustrated Gophers held just a 17-14 lead at the break -- the same combined total (31) that Minnesota's and Northwestern's football teams rang up in a half of football in Minneapolis in October.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are very few that could have called that opening period anything but ugly as the two teams combined for 12 field goals and 14 turnovers.

Northwestern's ploy unraveled in the second half, however, as Minnesota's edge in athleticism eventually shone through and the Gophers scored 52 points to blow the game open.

Trevor Mbakwe floored Northwestern's Alex Olah with a blocked shot on one end and then threw down a monster dunk on the other that shook the rim, as well as the Wildcats' confidence, and pushed Minnesota's lead to 26-18.

Shortly after that stretch Hollins put the game out of reach with five consecutive 3-pointers, the last of which opened a 20-point bulge. Hollins' marksmanship -- he didn't miss a single triple in that stretch and nailed 5 of 7 in the game -- effectively ended the contest because if there's one weakness in playing a tempo suitable for a Viennese waltz is that large leads can be insurmountable.

Northwestern (9-6, 0-2 Big Ten) fought back to cut the lead to 60-48 after a Tre Demps jumper with 2:50 left, but it was too little, too late, and the Gophers closed the game with three consecutive dunks.

Reggie Hearn, who missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, led Northwestern with 11 points, while Demps and Dave Sobolewski added 10 points each.

Minnesota (14-1, 2-0) wound up with a whopping 45-20 edge in rebounds, led by Mbakwe's 11 boards. The Gophers also missed almost double the number of free throws that the Wildcats attempted -- Minnesota was 17-of-28 from the charity stripe while NU was just 4-of-6.

Northwestern hit just 7-of-23 shots (30.4 percent) from beyond the arc. Kale Abrahamson scored all nine of his points on threes.



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