January 26, 2010

Three-point shooting a blessing and potential curse

MADISON - To be concerned about the number of times the Wisconsin men's basketball team is firing up three-pointers with no reservation or hesitation over the past four games would be a moot point.

Because as the season progresses, particularly without Jon Leuer in the lineup, the Badgers will continue to hoist shots from distance like a fourth grade kid just realizing he/she has the power to get the ball to the rim from that far away.

If it's an open look, it's likely somebody will take the shot. And chances are, they wouldn't think about it twice.

"We've struggled but we've gotten good looks," UW senior guard Jason Bohannon said following the Penn State game where his team shot more from downtown (33) than it did anywhere else (27). "It's not a matter of getting good looks."

Since Leuer was injured earlier this month with a fractured wrist, Wisconsin has seen a major upswing in the number of three-point shots taken. Just look at the statistics.

With Leuer in the lineup, Wisconsin had hit 35 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. And of the 53 shots the Badgers took on average per game with Leuer in the fold, just 18 (or 34 percent) were from downtown.

In conference play with Leuer UW shot less than 30 percent from downtown and 37 percent of UW's 201 shots from the field in those games were from distance.

Over UW's four most recent games -- a win at Northwestern, a loss at Ohio State, and two home wins over Michigan and Penn State - the Badgers have seen a dramatic spike in those numbers and a reliance on the three-point shot.

Of the 212 shots UW has fired since Leuer was injured, 51 percent have been from downtown. When half of your shots are from three-point land and you are only hitting 28 percent of them, chances are your offense is in a rut while struggling to find a way to get easier buckets.

"We should get the ball in the paint a little more through penetration," Bohannon, who is shooting 24 percent from downtown over the past four games, said. "Maybe we're forcing too many 3s, but the majority of those are good shots. We just haven't been hitting them."

But UW is still winning games. Since the Leuer injury, UW has won three of four games, with it's only loss coming on the road against a suddenly hot Ohio State squad with Evan Turner back in the mix.

In fact, as poorly as the Badgers have been shooting from downtown, and as reliant the team has been on settling for a long distance bomb, it is the very three-point bucket that has kept this team in games.

Last week against Michigan, a Rob Wilson three-pointer sparked a run that eventually helped the team overcome a nine-point second half deficit. Then against Penn State a few days later, it was the very same three-point shot that helped UW rally after falling behind by 16 points, and then again eight in the closing minutes of a thrilling victory.

But are 33 three pointers, the number UW attempted against Penn State, something the Badger offense is looking for? In response, the answer is no. But if those shots are there, will the Badgers take them? Of course.

"Who knows," UW head coach Bo Ryan said when asked if this bevy of three-point shooting is becoming a trend. "We're just going to keep finding ways. It could be 10 the next time or it could be 40 the next time.

"Whatever the defense is going to give us."

Looking more into the Penn State game, it was fairly obvious that Nittany Lions head coach Ed DeChellis saw that UW reliance on the three point shot and tested the Badgers by mixing up his defensive looks.

At times he would play UW straight up in man-to-man defense. At others, he would switch to a bit of a matchup zone look. Whatever he did worked, because it made the Badgers attempt more than half of their shots from downtown.

"They were daring us to make some," Ryan said. "And that's OK."

Now, though, with Purdue and Michigan State staring down the Badgers in upcoming games, chances are Wisconsin won't be able to rely on the three-point shot getting them back into the game like it did against Michigan and Penn State simply because the Boilers and Spartans play some of the best defense in the league.

At the same time though, if UW is consistently hitting shots, working the ball into the paint through at least dribble penetration while getting an early lead, the wins will continue to pile up.

But over the past four games, that has not necessarily been the case. And the reliance on the three-point shot could and probably will come back to bite Wisconsin at some point or points as this season continues on.

"It's just us a matter of hitting them," Bohannon said. "We just have to keep grinding it out and doing whatever we need to do to get a victory."

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