MADISON - After their disappointing 58-49 loss to Ohio State on Tuesday night, it was clear that one too many things had gone wrong for the Wisconsin Badgers to pick up the road win against the Buckeyes.
For one thing, they couldn't contain Deshaun Thomas. The 6-foot-7 junior looked unstoppable in the second half, and finished the game with 25 points. That's certainly not something that can happen in an upset bid.
And while other issues like their prolonged second half scoring drought glare up out of the box score, it's hard to ignore that the Badgers scored just 14 points in the paint against the No. 11 Buckeyes and didn't attempt a single free throw in the game. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes hit nine of their 12 shots from the line, and coasted to a win in the second half after being down by 2 points to the Badgers at halftime.
And while the loss set the Badgers back in their hunt for a Big Ten title, their inefficient performance near the basket isn't exactly new. The Badgers have scored just 30 points in the paint over their last three games, which included a 45-44 win over Minnesota and a 49-47 loss to Michigan State.
During that span only 21.4 percent of their points came on shots close to the basket, and the Badgers said Friday they'll need to work down low more often if they want to keep themselves on track in conference play.
"When you're getting in the paint, those are generally high percentage shots," senior forward Jared Berggren said. "Unfortunately we didn't do a good job of finishing when we did get the ball inside against Ohio State. You have to have a good balance as a team- you can't rely on all 3-pointers."
Half of Wisconsin's shots have come from behind the arc over the team's last three games, and while the Badgers are making over a third of them, an extra point here or there hasn't been able to make up for the offensive balance that's been missing from their offense lately.
"I think [balance] is important for any team. It's kind of like in football where you like to have a little balance running and passing- it's the same thing in basketball," assistant coach Gary Close said Friday. "You like to be able to score both inside and out and put more pressure on the defense. In games that we've played at our best, we've probably been more balance than we've been."
That's just what happened in Wisconsin's best win of the season, a 74-51 win over then-No. 12 Illinois, who also happen to be up next on the Badgers' schedule. The Badgers scored 30 points in the paint against the Illini, but also hit 10-of-23 3-pointers, and were also able to out-rebound the Illini 41-23 in the game. Close said those categories can all stem from a team having a good game in the post.
"There's a lot of things you can do in the post," Close said. "You can draw a foul, it can be a higher percentage shot, it can even improve your offensive rebounding, and then it can even improve your three-point shooting, because passes coming out of the post to three point shooters are some of the highest-percentage 3s you're going to get."
And if the Badgers are to get back on track after losing three of their last four games, they'll likely need to re-establish themselves in the paint against the Illini again. The Illini haven't defended either the 3-pointer or regular baskets very well this season, which could give the Badgers a chance to get back to the basics of their offense down in Champaign, Ill., at Assembly Hall.
"That's definitely something we need to get back to," senior forward Ryan Evans said of working for points in the paint. "It's inside out- that's always how the game is kind of structured. You've got to have an inside presence, and when you get both simultaneously, it's a good feel out there for everybody."