After a frustrating two-game road trip, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team (3-6 Big Ten, 10-12 overall) returns home Monday evening to meet the Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-4, 16-8) for the second time this year.
In the previous matchup in Lincoln on Jan. 9, the Badgers struggled to contain James Palmer Jr. The transfer guard from Miami caused problems for UW all night long, scoring 18 points, including nine free throw attempts. As a team, the Badgers made half as many free throws on one more attempt than Palmer.
Head coach Greg Gard said he will try to get his team to contest Palmer’s looks more and try to avoid giving him any room on any of his shots.
“[We have to] try to make looks tougher. He’s a really good player,” Gard said. “Watching the games since, he’s hit some tough shots. He’s playing well. Their whole team has continued to get better and better as time goes on.”
Since the last contest, Brad Davison suffered yet another injury to his left shoulder but continued to play despite the scare. The gargantuan brace attached to his shoulder seems to grow each night, but the freshman guard refuses to use that as an excuse for his poor shooting of late.
“I don’t like to use that as an excuse, but it’s definitely frustrating sometimes,” Davison said. “I’m thankful I can just keep playing. I’m trying to keep that mindset and be as positive as I can about it, but it definitely is frustrating, I’m not going to hide that.”
The Maple Grove, Minn., product said that the obtrusive brace and his recurring injury has forced him to reroute his approach to the game on both ends of the court. He’s had to take fewer chances than he would normally like, a change that’s especially frustrating for a player whose biggest asset is his relentless energy.
With Davison — the team’s second-best offensive option — limited, redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ has been asked to take on an even bigger role in the offense, an almost unthinkable task. And that extra pressure has caused him to rush below the basket at times, leading to turnovers or off-balance shot attempts.
Against Michigan State Friday night, Happ missed his first eight shots from the field but regained his rhythm in the second half to make 7-of-11 field goals. Gard said that the message to his veteran superstar has been to slow down and relax.
“I think he’s had opportunities. The speed at which he’s played at times has been a little fast,” Gard said. “Slow down and take your time through it, make sure you’re being solid with your feet. Add a pump fake.”
It’s almost unprecedented for a Wisconsin basketball team to struggle as much as this team has, especially of late. So what’s the formula for Happ and Co. to get his team back on track? Gard says it’s the same as it’s always been.
“We gotta make sure we take care of the ball, get good shots ourselves … It’ll be more adhering to our rules and making sure that we’re not beat in transition. We gotta get back and get our defense set.”
Tipoff from the Kohl Center is set for 8 p.m.