EVANSTON – For about 13 minutes they were able to go toe-to-toe with the team many regard as the best in the Big Ten conference.
Ryan Greer’s free throw with 7:57 left to go in the first half tied Northwestern with fifth-ranked Iowa at Welsh Ryan Arena as the Wildcats went back-and-forth with the talented team.
Unfortunately, like most things for the team over the last few weeks, the momentum didn’t last.
Iowa finished the half a 21-8 run, then turned it into a complete blowout in the second half as they ran away from Northwestern in a 96-73 win. It continued a brutal stretch for the Wildcats against some of the best teams in a talented conference, but their great stretch to start the year has completely cooled over the last two weeks.
Sunday’s defeat was their fifth-consecutive loss in the conference, erasing their 3-0 start to league play and putting them tenth in the Big Ten.
Taking defeats isn’t exactly something for the Wildcats to even be ashamed of, since the still developing team has played six-consecutive ranked opponents. They defeated the first, then No. 23 Ohio State in Evanston on December 26th but fell to Iowa on the road three days later.
Losses to No. 16 Michigan, No. 12 Illinois, and then a defeat at the hands of the Buckeyes were then followed by Sunday’s long afternoon. Luka Garza did most of his damage in the first half, scoring a team-high 17 points while Joe Wieskamp added 16 and CJ Fredrick 13 as the Hawkeyes outscored the Wildcats by 11 in the second half to compled the effort.
During the stretch, head coach Chris Collins is trying to keep his team’s mindset in the proper place. The team showed a lot of promise early in the season but has struggled through the rigors of the Big Ten season.
“We’re playing the best of the best, that’s what you get in the Big Ten, and if you don’t play at a really high level, then you’re aren’t going to win no matter who you play,” said Collins. “We have to keep our sprit, we have to learn from these games, we have to learn from the things we can do better on both ends, offensively and defensively.”
This stretch is certainly a difficult education, but one that could serve a young team in the long run. Right now for Collins, that seems like a long time away.