MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Bo Ryan sounded like a self-help guru.
Wisconsin’s coach still trusts his players even if they’ve lost five of their last six games. But if the Badgers have lost confidence along the way, they’re going to have to find some way to break out of the winter funk on their own.
The school-best 16-0 start is a distant memory. Maybe a trip to last-place Illinois on Tuesday will get them going.
“What happens with players … if they have lost confidence, it isn’t because anybody doesn’t believe in them,” Ryan said Monday “But it’s because they have self-doubts … It’s a tough thing because it’s you – you’re the ones who have to overcome it.”
The Badgers (17-5, 4-5 Big Ten) are sliding down the league standings following losses last week to Northwestern and Ohio State that dropped them out of the Top 25 on Monday.
With three decades of coaching experience, Ryan has just about seen it all. In a typically calm voice, he spoke about the coaches’ duties to help to point guard Traevon Jackson and the rest of the team feel like they have a chance to succeed on every possession, every game.
To help gauge his team’s aptitude, Ryan for the first time gave his team a test during a video session. Twenty-eight clips, 28 questions.
“Pretty perceptive group. They caught a lot of the teaching points, but you never know,” he said.
It also gave him another avenue to figure areas in which the team needed to improve going into the Illini game.
“At least it was encouraging to know that this player did not rotate or this player did not pump fake or this player did not – and we did it without worrying about who, what individual it was,” Ryan said. “But the idea was, OK, these are the things that we have to work on.”
Last time against Illinois, a 95-70 win at home, the Badgers were at the peak of their powers and ranked third in the Top 25. A three-game losing streak started the next game, Jan. 14 at Indiana, and the Badgers allowed each those opponents to shoot at least 50 percent.
There was a one-game reprieve with a 72-58 victory at Purdue on Jan. 25 before the losses hit again. This time, offense was the bigger issue after shooting 26 percent against Northwestern.
Then came the 59-58 loss Saturday to the Buckeyes. Wisconsin had plenty of chances to win, but missed too many foul shots late, while Ohio State asserted itself more in the paint in the second half.
The Badgers looked best early when they were the more active team in the lane. The Buckeyes clamped down after halftime and the game’s last possession ended in the hands of two struggling players – Jackson couldn’t get a good shot, and had to pass to forward Sam Dekker for a rushed, missed 3 at the buzzer.
No one is pointing fingers. The team-first Badgers are disappointed, but the players say the chemistry is fine.
Dekker is shooting 37 percent in the last six games, 10 percent below his season average. He was more aggressive early against Ohio State, though the 6-foot-8 sophomore seems to be more tentative of late.
Jackson shot 9 of 11 against Indiana but in the five games since then has hit just 26 percent. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.15 during the stretch, down from 1.72 for the year.
During this tough time, Jackson knows he’ll draw more scrutiny as the primary ball-handler.
“When you play point guard, you’ve got to be able to take the criticism when it comes,” Jackson said.
Record Pts Prv
1. Syracuse (65) 21-0 1,625 2
2. Arizona 21-1 1,517 1
3. Florida 19-2 1,482 3
4. Wichita St. 23-0 1,447 4
5. San Diego St. 19-1 1,370 5
6. Villanova 19-2 1,252 9
7. Cincinnati 21-2 1,182 13
8. Kansas 16-5 1,141 6
9. Michigan St. 19-3 1,136 7
10. Michigan 16-5 949 10
11. Duke 17-5 940 17
12. Creighton 18-3 790 20
13. Saint Louis 20-2 728 19
14. Louisville 18-4 723 12
15. Texas 17-4 719 25
16. Iowa St. 16-4 717 16
17. Iowa 17-5 669 15
18. Kentucky 16-5 653 11
19. Oklahoma St. 16-5 420 8
20. Virginia 17-5 364 -
21. Oklahoma 17-5 361 23
22. UConn 17-4 252 -
23. Gonzaga 20-3 237 -
24. Memphis 16-5 114 22
25. Pittsburgh 18-4 110 18
Others receiving votes: Wisconsin 79, Ohio St. 45, VCU 44, SMU 15, New Mexico 12, California 9, UCLA 9, Harvard 4, George Washington 3, LSU 3, Tennessee 2, American U. 1, Southern Miss. 1.
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