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Paint by numbers: Finishing inside the arc has fueled a scoring surge by Badgers men's basketball senior D'Mitrik Trice
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Paint by numbers: Finishing inside the arc has fueled a scoring surge by Badgers men's basketball senior D'Mitrik Trice

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It was only fitting during an unusual offseason that D’Mitrik Trice found himself working out nearly every weekday inside a warehouse in Dayton, Ohio, about 15 miles from his parents’ home.

The business owner had arranged for a basketball court to be placed in the building as a makeshift practice venue for his son’s team. He also allowed the space to be used by Xander Smart, a skills trainer whose list of clients included Trice.

Four days a week — and sometimes five — the senior point guard for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team would arrive with his older brother Travis II, a former Michigan State standout, to work on their games with Smart.

When Smart described the setting as dingy, he meant it as a compliment, saying it added a “cool vibe” to the workouts.

“It’s almost like a laboratory,” Smart said, “where you’re just getting to work.”

The payoff from those sessions has been on display more and more lately as Trice nears the midway point of his fifth season with the No. 10 Badgers (11-3, 5-2 Big Ten), who host Northwestern (6-6, 3-5) on Wednesday night at the Kohl Center.

Trice has averaged 20.3 points over a six-game stretch that began with a win at Michigan State on Christmas Day. The lowest scoring output during that run came last Friday night at Rutgers, when Trice was held to 13 points in a 60-54 win over the Scarlet Knights. But even then Trice came to life in the second half to give a struggling offense a timely spark.

When analyzing what’s going right for Trice during his hot streak, it’s easy to start with the fact he’s shooting nearly 50% from 3-point range (17 of 35). But it’s what’s happening inside the arc that is more telling: Trice is 22 of 40 (55.0%) on 2-point shots, in part because he’s been able to get to the rim more often and has been more efficient once he’s gotten to those high-percentage areas.

On the season, Trice is shooting 48.6% on 2-pointers. He entered the season shooting 38.0% from inside the arc.

“He has worked on it like crazy,” UW assistant coach Dean Oliver said. “Especially in the offseason, he really added to his game and just his repertoire of different ways to finish. And he’s gained the courage and confidence with making those.

“Once you start seeing them go in, you want to go in there more often. And I think with him, that’s been a big deal. It makes him unstoppable to guard when he’s not just getting his patented pull-up (jumper).”

Finishing act

There were no big men in the warehouse workouts: only the brothers Trice and Smart, who played point guard at the University of Northwestern Ohio, an NAIA program located 70 miles north of Dayton.

Knowing he was working with competitive siblings who were interested on improving their finishing skills, Smart got creative. He’d run the Trices through drills that wouldn’t end until one of them had made three shots without hitting the rim. Then they’d progress to the next move and start another mini-contest.

The end of the week included a different type of innovation: Foam Roll Friday, in which Smart would serve as the defender while holding a roller used for exercises. It gave Smart three extra feet of reach and was the equivalent of the length Trice would face once he reached the rim in Big Ten play.

There weren’t many offensive highlights for the Badgers during a 77-54 loss at Michigan on Jan. 12, but Trice provided one in the first half that showed off what he had been working on in the offseason. He dribbled with his left hand around a screen, hesitated at the free throw line and exploded to the rim before Michigan’s 7-foot-1 center, Hunter Dickinson, could alter the shot.

“I think he’s just getting to his spots,” said Smart, who has worked with Trice the past three offseasons. “Late shot clock, he’s not settling for 3s all the time and he’s kind of keeping the players off balance. They don’t know if he’s going to go to the hesitation pull-up (jumper), like he’s used a lot all the seasons up to this one, and he’s able to drive to the rim and then be on balance when he’s finishing, whether it’s a floater or he’s getting all the way to the rim.”

When Trice struggles to finish around the rim — he did at times early in the season — it’s typically because he’s not on balance. Lately, he’s done a better job of being under control and has shown he can finish in a variety of ways.

During UW’s 80-73 double-overtime win over Indiana on Jan. 7, Trice tied the game on a floater late in regulation. He’s also used a scoop shot with his off hand in which he’s able to keep the ball away from bigger defenders.

“A big thing I added to my game was finishing away from the bigs and getting it high off the glass but soft,” Trice said. “I think that’s something that’s going to be important, not only for this year but the rest of my career. I definitely worked a lot with my trainer back home in the offseason to work on (that), whether that’s the running hook or keeping it away from the defender and I think it’s starting to pay off here, especially getting into the meat of the Big Ten (schedule).”

Follow the leader

Oliver believes the turning point for Trice was midway through Big Ten play last season. He’s become a more efficient scorer and passer, not to mention a more relentless defender.

But some of the areas in which Trice has improved are more subtle.

One is his willingness to speak up. When Nate Reuvers was struggling during the first half of the game against Indiana, Trice and Brad Davison didn’t hesitate to get in the senior forward’s face. During a team meeting prior to the game against Rutgers, Trice challenged forwards Aleem Ford and Tyler Wahl to go into what he knew would be a physical matchup with a defensive mindset.

“He wants it so bad, he wants to win,” Oliver said, “and he’s realizing as a senior that you have to say some things and you can’t always be the most popular person when you’re trying to get somebody to do something and get everybody on the same page.”

The game against Rutgers also was an example of how far Trice has come in terms of showing poise and patience. He had one of the best defenders in the Big Ten, Jacob Young, draped all over him for much of the game and only had three shot attempts in the opening 32-plus minutes.

But Trice focused on keeping his teammates involved and didn’t force the issue. When he finally got his opportunities, he buried them: Trice scored eight points — two 3-pointers and a basket at the rim — to take a two-point lead to double digits. After Rutgers got back within four, Trice made a free throw to create a little more breathing room.

Watching back in Ohio with a smile in his face was Smart, who has admired Trice’s even-keel demeanor ever since he started getting to know him nearly three years ago.

“I think that’s a testament to his experience,” Smart said of Trice, who has started 91 of the 126 games he’s played for the Badgers. “There aren’t a lot of guys that can manage the game and control the game the way he does and then take over late to get them the win.”


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