Badgers remain confident in 3-point shooting despite recent woes

Micah Potter liked every 3-pointer he took against Illinois last Saturday. After watching film of the Illini’s 75-60 win, so did Wisconsin’s coaching staff. They were all good shots and well within the structure of the offense. Only problem? None of the five he put up actually went in. It’s what led Potter to spend nearly three hours in the gym after the team drove back from Champaign that night. He didn’t know how many shots he put up in that time but he didn’t stop shooting until the machine rebounding for him malfunctioned.

“I was just frustrated and I stayed until the gun broke,” Potter said Tuesday with a laugh. “I figured that was God telling me to take a break and go home and get some sleep, because staying there all night is not going to help me as much as I thought it would.”

Potter’s struggles from beyond the arc have reached three games. Since going 4-for-6 and scoring 23 points in a win at Maryland, the senior is 0-for-9 on 3-pointers. But a lack of production from deep is not solely a Potter issue. It’s largely a team-wide problem that has played a major role in a midseason slump that has seen Wisconsin go just 4-4 in its last eight games.

After shooting 41.4% in their first 12 contests of the season, the Badgers are hitting at just a 30.4% clip during the eight-game stretch. That included a season-worst 4-for-24 (16.7%) effort against Illinois. Perhaps the most infuriating aspect for the players is many of the shots could not have been more wide-open looks.

“We’ve got to shoot better. We’re getting really good looks, getting great looks from three,” guard Brad Davison said. “And it’s not one person, it’s everybody. We’re all getting good looks.”

There have been outliers in the stretch. Sophomore Tyler Wahl, who went 2-for-9 to start the year, is 5-for-11, while freshman Jonathan Davis has hit his last five 3-pointers. But the group of players taking most of the shots have all struggled to find their range. Davison, Potter, D’Mitrik Trice, Aleem Ford and Nate Reuvers are shooting a combined 28.7% from deep in the last eight games.

“We’re moving the ball, playing inside out, doing what we want to do,” Davison said. “We know we’re all great shooters. We’ve put the time in. We not only have confidence in ourselves but confidence in one another to knock down shots. So we’re going to keep looking for each other, we’re going to keep hunting them.”

Wisconsin seems to be caught in a bit of a vicious cycle that has played out over the last three years. During the 2018-19 season, the Badgers got out to a hot start from deep, shooting better than 38% on 3-pointers in 13 of their first 22 games. It helped them start the Big Ten season 9-3. The shooting went ice cold to end the year as they topped 38% just once in their final 12 games and went a combined 8-for-49 in the final two games of the season — losses to Michigan State in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal and Oregon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Things started out in similar rough fashion last season. The Badgers shot 32.5% from three in their first 12 Big Ten games as they struggled to a 6-6 record. But over the final eight games Wisconsin caught fire from deep, hitting 41% of its shots and going 8-0 on the way to claiming a share of the Big Ten title.

As of right now, the Badgers are very much following the mold of two seasons ago as opposed to what we saw a year ago. But maybe facing Nebraska on Wednesday can be the jump starter they need. In the last three meetings between the two schools Wisconsin is shooting 45.1% on 3-pointers, while Davison has shot 46.8% (22-for-47) in his seven career games against the Huskers.

“I don’t know,” Davison said when asked why he’s had so much success against Nebraska. “I wish I had the answer for you. I could put it in a bottle and save it for every game and every opponent.”

That all of Wisconsin’s best 3-pointer shooters are going through a rut at the same time could not be less ideal, but it’s one that Potter believes can be broken out of as a group.

“Shooting is 90 percent mental. I mean that with full honesty. It’s 90 percent mental,” Potter said. “Seeing one go in from another teammate gets the team going a little bit and the next one has a better chance of going in. I believe that 100 percent. I think anyone else that knows that game of basketball will agree with me.”

Wisconsin’s problems in this 4-4 stretch have not been limited to its 3-point shooting. The Badgers have turned the ball over at a higher rate, including having a double-digit number of them in each of their last four games. The defense has also had significant lapses at times, most notably in losses at Michigan, Penn State and Illinois. But in the end, the offense from the outside has to come to life.

“That’s how you make a run. That’s how you win games,” Davison said. “It all comes down to — yes, defense is a big deal but you’ve got to put the ball in the hoop. That’s what we’re looking to do the last stretch of games, get on a roll.”