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March 16, 2012

Cats routed in Washington

This couldn't have been the way John Shurna envisioned ending his Northwestern career.

Shurna scored a team-high 24 points, but Northwestern, on the short end of the athleticism scale against top-seed Washington, wound up on the short end of the scoreboard, as well, getting routed 76-55 to end its season in the second round of the NIT.

The Wildcats got off to a good start, building a 17-9 lead on the strength of three early three-pointers. But 11 first-half turnovers -- one more than they average in a full game -- proved to be their undoing, as Washington went on a 30-15 run to open up a 39-32 halftime lead. Between turnovers and offensive rebounds, Washington took 18 more shots than the Wildcats in the opening period and scored 18 points off turnovers.

The second half only got worse for the Wildcats. They had managed to hit 58 percent of their shots in the first half but missed 10 of their first 11 in the second as the game got away from them. Washington, meanwhile, hit six of its first seven triples as the lead ballooned to 20 points in less than 10 minutes.

There may have been no better illustration of the talent gap between the two teams than a 10-second span in the opening minutes of the second half.

JerShon Cobb, Northwestern's most athletic player, stole the ball from Tony Wroten and dribbled the length of the floor for a layup. Wroten, trailing Cobb, rose up well above the rim to spectacularly block Cobb's shot off the backboard. Then, Wroten ran back downcourt and threw an alley-oop to Terrence Ross, who hammered home a two-handed dunk.

The game rapidly deteriorated into a laugher, with Washington turning in several highlight-reel plays. The biggest roar for the home fans was Martin Breunig's monstrous one-handed dunk over a cowering Reggie Hearn in the closing minutes.

Ross proved to be unstoppable for Northwestern, racking up a career-high 32 points. C.J. Wilcox added 20 for the regular-season Pac-12 champs, who apparently had a point to prove to the NCAA tournament selection committee that overlooked them. Wroten, Washington's leading scorer, tallied just two.

Alex Marcotullio was the only Wildcat other than Shurna to finish in double figures, with 11 points. Shurna led Northwestern with six rebounds, while Wroten and Ross collected eight each for Washington.

Northwestern was outrebounded by the taller Huskies 42-24, including 19-8 on the offensive end. The Wildcats also finished with a season-high 15 turnovers and shot just 21.9 percent in the second half.

Northwestern (19-13) failed in its quest to win 20 games for a school-record three times and finished one game short of where it wound up in last season's NIT.

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