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Northwestern basketball falls to No. 4 Wisconsin 76-49

Wisconsin's Josh Gasser (21) looks basket as Northwestern center Alex Olah (22) guard Drew Crawford left defend during first half

Wisconsin's Josh Gasser (21) looks to the basket as Northwestern center Alex Olah (22) and guard Drew Crawford, left, defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Evanston, Ill., on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: January 3, 2014 9:43AM

Northwestern had its last meal Thursday night as it began its slow walk through college basketball death row. Eh, call it a quick snack.

The Wildcats found themselves in their Big Ten opener against No. 4 Wisconsin playing relatively well offensively, decisively closing out on the Badgers’ outside shooters. It was like one last stretch of play that they could enjoy before what inevitably will be a collective beat down from their conference cohorts.

Signs of life lasted a few minutes, but then the inevitable happened: The Badgers beat Northwestern 76-49, outscoring the Wildcats by 26 in the first half.

“Losing like that never feels good,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “I’ve lost like that, I’ve won like that. When you lose like that it doesn’t feel good, and the moment that I don’t feel like that, then I should get out of what I’m doing.”

He’s going to have that feeling a lot this conference season.

It won’t be a quick death but instead a slow, tortuous one that will test the will of Collins, who has been used to winning since starring as a player at Glenbrook North and Duke before spending 13 seasons with the Blue Devils as an assistant coach.

This under-talented Northwestern squad isn’t going to be in many Big Ten games this season. And that’s not to bemoan their effort. The Wildcats are trying. But only rarely, in the nation’s best conference, will their best be good enough.

In fact, effort alone isn’t good enough for Collins, either. That’s not to say he has been critical of his team’s effort. Only that he measures success by winning.

And that was probably the most encouraging thing to take from a program that has otherwise lost so much.

Wisconsin outscored Northwestern only 36-35 in the second half. Collins easily could have pointed to that, spinning Thursday night into something positive.

He didn’t take the bait. Not once did he mention it when so many other coaches in his situation — check that, almost every other coach — would.

“Like I told the guys after the game; I’m not a moral victories guy,” Collins said. “At the end of the day we lost big, and that’s never going to be OK in my book. We all have to be angry about it. You can’t be sad.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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