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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Badgers shed hesitancy en route to offensive awakening

Ben Brust made a name for himself early in the season, coming off the bench and providing UW with some much needed offense. Brust averages 8.2 points per game, good for fourth on the team.[/media-credit]

In a sport as fickle as basketball, where shot attempts customarily rim in and out, lengthy discussions of inconsistent shooting efforts don’t come often.

Sometimes, the shots fall. Other times, they don’t. For the Wisconsin men’s basketball team, coached by the whimsical Bo Ryan, the dialogue rarely extends further than that.

“[We have a] lot of shooters,” Ryan said before cracking a brief half-grin. “It’s the makers that are hard to find, sometimes.”


Proverbial as that soundbyte sounds, Ryan’s words accurately depict Wisconsin’s offensive production through the majority of Big Ten play. The Badgers, en route to their current fourth-place conference standing entering Thursday’s road trip to Iowa, have had games featuring both offensive bliss and downright puzzling inefficiency from the floor.

In the Big Ten opener Dec. 27, Wisconsin made more than 50 percent of its shots from both overall and from 3-point range. Four days later, while hosting those very Hawkeyes they’ll face Thursday night, the Badgers shot just 34.8 percent from the floor and made only three of their 28 3-point attempts.

The up-and-down offensive efforts have UW ranked 11th of 12 teams in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (42.3 percent) but fifth in 3-point shooting (35.7 percent).

Against the Hawkeyes – the conference’s worst defense in terms of both points allowed (72.1 per game) and opposing field goal percentage (45.4 percent) – the Badgers are obviously eyeing a strong offensive showing. But alas, the last time they faced Iowa – at home, no less – they shot just 34.8 percent from the floor and needed 69 shot attempts to score 65 points.

“Shooting’s a funny thing,” Ryan said. “But if you’re on the court and they’re open, you’ve got to take them.”

After last Sunday’s victory over Penn State, Wisconsin’s players were lauding exactly that – a renewed focus on not passing up open shots out of fear of a miss. The Badgers shot 42.6 percent from the floor against the Nittany Lions and made half of their 3-point attempts, while also adding 14-of-17 shooting from the free throw line to the mix.

According to assistant coach Gary Close, the hesitancy – which most recently reared its head in losses to top-10 teams Michigan State and Ohio State – sometimes stems from the Badgers falling into the trap of merely watching their scoring leader and point guard, Jordan Taylor.

“I thought we did a better job of being a little more aggressive offensively,” Close said of the Penn State game. “When you have a great point guard like we got, sometimes – not even planned – you kind of stop and take a look and watch. You’ve got to try to get away from that. I thought we moved the ball better and cut a little better.”

The result, Close said, was the Badgers creating more high-percentage shots – whether for themselves or a teammate.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got to shoot it, but if you’re a threat or you make other things happen, you can get other guys better shots,” Close said.

Perhaps the biggest benefactor of the more aggressive mindset was Josh Gasser. UW’s fifth-leading scorer in conference play with 7.3 points per game, the sophomore guard hadn’t scored more than nine points since mid-January prior to Sunday. Gasser also endured three straight games where he shot less than 37 percent from the field.

Nevertheless, Gasser caught fire quickly against the Nittany Lions, scoring 11 points before halftime and finishing with a team-high 15. All but one of his shots came from behind the 3-point arc, from where he was 3-for-5 on the night. Collectively, Gasser’s effort seemed to be contagious

“I think once [Gasser] got hot, other guys started knocking down shots,” guard Ben Brust said. “Sometimes all it takes is one person to get it going. You kind of feed off it.”

Gasser also finished a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line, and his vigor in getting there also struck a chord with his teammates. Foul shooting has fallen in line behind 3-point marksmanship on the list of Wisconsin’s recent inconsistencies, but not by way of percentages. Sometimes, the Badgers just don’t attempt many.

In that loss to Ohio State Feb. 4, Wisconsin was forced to play from behind for much of the game. Consequently, Taylor carried the team, but he took only three free throws. Taylor made all of them, but the first he attempted didn’t come until 6:46 remained in the game and UW was trailing by six points.

The good news for the Badgers is that in the three games since that loss, they’ve attempted no fewer than 14 in each.

“In a lot of cases, you have to take what the defense gives you,” Close said. “If the defense is just going to sag all the way around the basket and give you open shots, then you’re going to have to make some to make them come out and create lanes to drive. But we’ve always wanted to be not only a balanced team inside and out, but also a balanced team with a lot of guys scoring. When we are, we’re a little more effective.”

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