BLOOMINGTON-A.J. Ratliff insists that his confidence isn't shaken, his resolve hasn't withered. But he willingly admits where he finds himself two days before the Indiana-Purdue match-up.
"I am in a slump," says Ratliff.
The numbers certainly bear that out. Since scoring 21 points in 21 minutes against Kentucky Dec. 10, the 6-2, 183-pound Indianapolis native has totaled 13 points in the seven games, failing to make more than one field goal in any contest. His playing time has remained steady – he's averaged nearly 18 minutes/game since the UK contest – but his contributions, at least offensively, haven't.
Ratliff knows as well as anyone that needs to change. With D.J. White out for the foreseeable future and Rod Wilmont considered a gametime decision for the Purdue contest, a more productive Ratliff would go along way toward not only helping IU to a win Saturday, but also in its quest for a conference championship.
Despite the recent struggles, Ratliff thinks he's put a finger on what has been holding him back in recent weeks. Instead of making a concerted effort to get involved offensively as soon as he enters the game, he thinks he needs to instead look to get a couple of easy opportunities to get the point production started.
"I think I just need to let my offense come back to me," says Ratliff. "I'm starting off games shooting 3s, and I think I need to get a couple of easy baskets, a couple of layups, and then work my way back out. Let my defense lead my offense."
Ratliff has, in fact, been pretty much limited to hoisting 3-point attempts since his 6-of-9 shooting effort against Kentucky. He hasn't made a two-point basket since the win over the Wildcats, going 3-for-9 from 3-point range since that game and 0-for-8 from inside the arc.
The hope is that Ratliff can use his athleticism on defense and his ability to attack off the dribble to get in the lane, or get to the line…anything to get his offensive game jumpstarted.
"I've been forcing a lot of stuff, I've been taking a lot of outside shots, and I'm a good driver and I can take it to the basket and let my game start with that," says Ratliff.
If there's an opponent that might serve as the perfect remedy for Ratliff's recent struggles, it's Purdue. It's not so much that the Boilermakers are the league's most extreme case of the walking wounded with four projected starters out for the season, nor the fact Coach Matt Painter's squad is just 7-9 this season and 1-4 in conference play.
It's that Ratliff has a history of success against the Hoosiers' arch-rival. A year ago, he was instrumental in IU's 75-73 double overtime win in West Lafayette, contributing seven points, six rebounds and four blocks while playing 40 minutes. His four-block effort made him the first IU guard to block four shots in a game since Greg Graham accomplished the feat against Texas A&M on Dec. 28, 1989.
He then backed that outing up with a 15-point, 6-of-7 shooting effort in Indiana's 79-62 victory over the Boilermakers in Bloomington.
It was those sort of flashes of brilliance a year ago, coupled with rumors of dominating performances against his teammates during summer scrimmages, that led many to believe this would be a huge year for Ratliff, one in which he could emerge as one of the team's primary offensive threats. With the exception of his huge second-half effort against Kentucky that has yet to materialize.
Certainly his preseason thumb injury stunted his play early on, and he's been battling to get it back ever since. But these struggles haven't dampened Ratliff's enthusiasm about what both he and his teammates can do this season, and he isn't about to start doubting himself.
"I'm never going to question myself," says Ratliff.
Ratliff Not Rattled
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