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Northwestern struggles on defense in loss to No. 10 Iowa

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Updated: January 26, 2014 9:08PM



Don’t look at Northwestern’s 76-50 loss Saturday to No. 10 Iowa at Welsh-Ryan Arena as an indication the Wildcats’ defense suddenly has started to trend downward.

NU’s loss was less about performance and more about performers.

Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery couldn’t have had a simpler game plan. The Wildcats’ greatest deficiency is glaring: They lack depth. And Iowa has it.

So McCaffery’s plan was to run waves of players at NU. As the game wore on, he knew it would become harder for the Wildcats to maintain the defensive intensity that had helped them win three of their previous four games.

‘‘That’s why [the Hawkeyes] won,’’ NU coach Chris Collins said. ‘‘Our guys were playing hard. This wasn’t like they played harder than us; both teams played really hard. They’re just better than us.’’

At least nine Iowa players played 15 minutes; four Wildcats played at least 32 minutes. Beyond those four players, sixth man Tre Demps played 28 minutes and only two others played 10 or more.

So it wasn’t surprising that after NU held the best offensive team in the Big Ten to 30 points in the first half that the Hawkeyes had their way in the second.

The Wildcats (10-11, 3-5) don’t really have a backup center to spell Alex Olah. Nikola Cerina, NU’s only other serviceable big man, played only four minutes. That exacerbated the Wildcats’ problems against what Collins called the best offensive rebounding team in the conference.

Iowa had 13 offensive rebounds, which meant less to NU in terms of giving up second chances than it did in terms of losing out on opportunities to score in transition.

Offensively, it was the same story for the Wildcats. Drew Crawford was the only player who could score with consistency, finishing with a game-high 20 points. NU shot 36.4 percent (20-for-55) from the field.

‘‘You get tired in stretches, but then you get that media timeout that’s real helpful to be able to get your water and be able to get a little rest on the bench,’’ said Crawford, who played 37 minutes. ‘‘So, yeah, you get tired, but it’s something I’m able to push through for the most part.’’

NOTE: Guard Dave Sobolewski played for the first time in four games, returning from a concussion he suffered in practice Jan. 11. He was 0-for-2 from the field and had three assists in 10 minutes.

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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