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Wasted scoring chances plaguing Badgers men's basketball offense
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Wasted scoring chances plaguing Badgers men's basketball offense

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All five starters touched the ball for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team on the opening possession of the game Thursday night against Iowa, with Tyler Wahl completing the circuit by completing a post feed to Nate Reuvers.

At that point, with the ball in Reuvers’ hands on the left block, a checklist item had been crossed off for the Badgers: They were in what they refer to as the “TFZ,” the 10-foot zone.

There was a lot to like about that trip up the court — except, of course, for how it ended, which is what matters most. Worse yet, it was a scene that played out over and over for the No. 21 Badgers during their 77-62 loss to the No. 11 Hawkeyes at the Kohl Center.

University of Wisconsin men's basketball coach Greg Gard and seniors Micah Potter and Brad Davison speak to the media after the 21st-ranked Badgers fell to the 11th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes 77-62 in a Big Ten battle Thursday night at the Kohl Center in Madison. 

This particular possession ended with Reuvers dribbling into the paint and releasing a jump hook that, despite being contested by Iowa center Luka Garza, was a decent look. It bounced weakly off the side of the rim and, just like that, the first of many quality scoring opportunities for UW had been wasted.

The live-by-the-3-die-by-the-3 peanut gallery couldn’t blame the Badgers’ latest defeat on their reliance on perimeter shots. UW made more 3-pointers in a Big Ten game than it has all season, going 13 of 34 for a respectable 38.2% from beyond the arc.

That’s hardly scorching from long distance, but the Badgers had gone 10-1 this season when shooting at least 35% from 3-point range prior to the loss to Iowa. Speaking of which: UW had won 17 consecutive games over the past two seasons when finishing with at least 10 made 3-pointers.

That streak ended because of the Badgers’ inability to finish inside the arc. UW was 8 of 36 overall on 2-point shots and was particularly awful in that category before halftime, missing 17 of its first 18 attempts.

“I thought we took really good shots in the first half,” UW senior guard Brad Davison said. “They just didn’t fall.”

Davison’s baffling stat line was a snapshot of his season: He went 5 of 8 from 3-point range to raise his season average from beyond the arc to 38.3%, which would be a career high.

But Davison missed all three of his 2-point attempts against Iowa and is now 15 of 67 on the season inside the arc. At 22.4%, that’s the worst mark in the nation for players with enough attempts to qualify.

The numbers over the past 10 games for Davison — 1 of 22 on 2s — are hard to fathom. When asked earlier this season about his difficulty finishing around the rim, Davison said he needed to focus more on making the shot and less on absorbing contact from defenders.

However, he’s missed from point-blank range early in the second half in each of the past two games. Both plays ended up being reviewed because the defenders — Michigan’s Mike Smith and Iowa’s CJ Fredrick — took contact to the head from Davison.

While the officials didn’t see any reason to punish Davison in either case, the bottom line didn’t change: A struggling veteran had just wasted quality scoring chances for an offense that can ill afford to not cash in on good looks.

It wasn’t just Davison against Iowa. The Badgers went 5 of 16 on shots near the rim against the Hawkeyes, with senior forward Aleem Ford missing twice from point-blank range in the opening 7½ minutes from the game.

“I’ve said this multiple times, patience is a big thing,” said UW senior center Micah Potter, who finished with a team-high 23 points and was responsible for five of UW’s eight made 2-pointers. “I feel like in the first half — and even in the second, the entire game — guys can get rushed. Playing at your own pace in the post or inside the paint is huge — not letting the defense affect you and if they do, make sure it’s a foul. The biggest thing is we’ve just got to be patient in the post, be confident in our ability to finish inside, go through contact.”

As Potter pointed out, the Badgers need to do a better job of getting to the free throw line. They’ve averaged only 12.1 attempts over the past nine games and went only 7 of 12 against Iowa, with Wahl and Reuvers each missing both of their attempts.

UW (15-8, 9-7 Big Ten) has dropped to No. 40 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency heading into a game Sunday against Northwestern (6-13, 3-12) at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois.

Even when one hole gets plugged — as the 3-point shooting struggles did against Iowa — another leak pops up for a team that is running out of time in its quest to find a rhythm.

“We’ve struggled,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “That’s no secret in terms of trying to score at the level we should be scoring or need to score at.”

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