January 12, 2012

Snapping out of it

Ryan Evans, Jordan Taylor, Rob Wilson and Jared Berggren are the only players currently on the Wisconsin roster that have ever experienced a three-game losing streak during their time in Madison.

That, of course, being the much maligned six-game losing streak of the 2008-09 season, one where the Badgers suffered the longest such streak during the Bo Ryan era.

When Wisconsin takes on Purdue later Thursday evening, it will strive to snap out of its current funk. But having had the opportunity to watch practice, there doesn't seem to be much of a funk at all.

"We're trying to stay positive and we're trying to stay into it," UW sophomore guard Josh Gasser, who hasn't experienced a three-game hiccup since his freshman year at Port Washington (WI) high school, said following a recent practice. "We just have a good time with each other. We're a really tight knit group.

"When we're out there smiling, having a good time and just going out there and playing loose we play much better."

That, though, didn't seem to be the case last time out for a Badger squad that currently sits in the bottom half of the Big Ten with a 1-3 record. Against a very strong Michigan squad, Wisconsin struggled to find a way to consistently score the basketball.

That has essentially been the problem throughout this current three-game downfall. UW has shot around 33 percent in each of those game, it's turning the ball over more than it normally does and there's too much reliance on senior Jordan Taylor to figure out a way to score.

"I think we were a little stagnant," Gasser said. "Sometimes offensively once it got late in the shot clock there were a couple of guys standing around a little too much and weren't looking to get open. They were just waiting for something to happen, I guess.

"I think everyone needs to be a little more aggressive and not wait for something to happen, but instead make something happen."

Gasser scored just four points in UW's lopsided loss to the Wolverines, but his aggression early in the first half sparked a quick run that helped the Badgers storm back from an early deficit to take a 13-12 lead with just more than 10 minutes left in the opening half.

He was aggressive in cutting through the zone and kicking out to teammates who either took the open shot or found another open shooter. That aggression was something that lasted just a brief moment and something that hasn't been occurring on a consistent basis.

It seems as though the Badgers, at times, have passed on good shots with hopes of finding great ones later in the possession. The only problem with that methodology is exactly what Gasser indicated.

Once the shot clock starts winding down most of the team opts to parlay the opportunity into Taylor's hands. That's not a bad alternative, but when the opposing defense is continually harping on shutting UW's best player down it becomes awfully difficult for him to find an open look.

"I wouldn't necessarily say we need to pass up the good shots," Evans, averaging 9.9 points per game, said. "But at the same time if we can get a great one that's what we want. I wouldn't say that's the case because [Bo Ryan teams] have been getting great shots since he's been here."

Purdue, much like Wisconsin, is a team that prides itself on defense and defensive philosophies. They're relentless on-the-ball defenders that make it as difficult as possible for opponents to find their comfort zone.

For a team like the Badgers, it's all about capitalizing on opportunities to score the basketball at a success rate higher than 33 percent.

If UW is going to beat a feisty Purdue squad inside an arena that has been nothing but cruel to the Badgers over the years, it's going to have to find a way to assert itself aggressively while staying under control and true to basic principles.

People other than Jordan Taylor are going to need to score the basketball. There simply can't be any more possessions where Taylor catches the ball at the top of the key with 12 seconds left on the shot clock only to fire a contested 18 footer.

This UW team can do better than that. And it needs to do better than that.

"We got to the lane a couple of times against Michigan and kicked it out," Gasser said. "We made plays for others. I want to keep improving on that. It's about getting in the mindset to make something happen instead of waiting for something to happen."

"We passed up some good looks hoping to get a great one, but at this point in the season against Big Ten defenses the good shot you would get is going to be the best one you'll get in the possession."



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