Shooting slump to blame for recent on-court struggles
BRYAN FAUST/Herald photoWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Bo Ryan era at Wisconsin has been one of unprecedented modern-day success, but with Saturday’s loss to Big Ten doormat Purdue, the current stretch officially became the low-point for the Badger coach, at least statistically.Though it seems eons ago, in Ryan’s first five games as head coach, during the 2001-2002 season, the team lost four of five. That stretch was also the last time UW lost three in a row, until now.And the culprit for the latest defeat was the same, all-too-familiar foe that has dogged Wisconsin throughout the streak: poor shooting.Dismal shooting from the field has been the earmark of the Badgers’ losing streak, as they haven’t managed to shoot over 45 percent since they played Michigan State on Jan. 8. And against Purdue, who enjoyed a decisive advantage inside, UW needed to shoot in the 45-percent range.”In order to do it against a team like this, you have to shoot 40-something percent,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to shoot your percentage. That’s how you overcome some of that inside [pressure].”The common thought is that Wisconsin has become too predictable on offense, as teams believe that Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor are the only true offensive threats.Teams have been treating them accordingly, making their defensive emphasis on stopping the pair and not worrying too heavily about the rest of the lineup. Tucker said he even thought that Purdue was running a “triangle and two” against UW, a defense very rarely seen on the college level.”Yeah, we obviously played off a couple of their guys and tried to get more help [on Tucker and Taylor],” Boilermaker head coach Matt Painter said.The answer to the problem is to have more players step up their scoring, a task decidedly more difficult than it sounds, especially when the players outside of Tucker and Taylor seemingly have been hesitant to shoot the ball. “Guys have to step up with confidence right now,” Tucker said. “I think a lot of us are lacking confidence in our shots right now.”Junior forward Jason Chappell could be the perfect example. After starting the season out as a legitimate shooting threat (putting together three double-digit scoring efforts in four games earlier this year), Chappell has become very tentative to shoot, often looking to dish off even the most open of shots. “The main thing is that when we start missing a couple shots, guys get hesitant,” Tucker said. “You can tell [Chappell] for the last week or so, he has been stutter-stepping and then shooting. He hasn’t been consistent. “It’s been more of a mental battle, an internal battle within himself.”Freshman Joe Krabbenhoft attributes the inability to make buckets to the team not running Ryan’s “swing offense” as smoothly as they had when the season was young.”It’s not just catching and shooting. It’s all the things before that,” Krabbenhoft said. “Just playing with each other, playing off of each other, reading each other, getting that good flow down. That’s where the shots start going.”One message was clear from the Wisconsin players and coaches: not shooting isn’t going to solve the problem.”Don’t stop shooting because that is when everything falls apart,” Tucker said.To their credit, some Badgers haven’t appeared to be gun-shy at all, as senior Ray Nixon has played more aggressively than he has all season during the rough stretch, while Brian Butch hasn’t shown any symptoms of shooting skittishness.”I’ve seen Brian Butch, I’ve seen Ray Nixon, I’ve seen these guys hit those shots and they’re trying,” Ryan said. “And one of these nights, they will [hit them],””Good shooting is contagious, so when we catch fire, we’ll be alright,” Krabbenhoft said.Butch injured again: Sophomore center Brian Butch went down and had to be helped off the court during Saturday’s game with a left ankle injury. The team had no update to his condition after the game.Butch appeared to re-injure the left ankle sprain he suffered Jan. 18 against Ohio State. With just over three minutes remaining in the second half, Butch was guarding the post. As he attempted to defend a lob to Purdue’s Marcus Ware, Butch stepped on Ware’s foot and quickly collapsed to the ground. Butch lay flat on his stomach for several moments, pounding the court in pain. When turned over, he pulled his jersey over his head while the UW medical staff quickly examined him.Butch was then helped off the court and was trying not to put any weight on his left leg while slowly making his way to the bench.If the first-year starter, who has started every game this season, has to miss any significant time, it would be yet another blow to the already thin Badger frontline. The only available player above 6-foot-7 would be 6-foot-10 forward Chappell.