Taking What's Three

After years of dominating opponents at the free-throw line, Wisconsin has added a consistent three-point shot to its scheme. When Minnesota comes to Madison for the conference opener Tuesday, the Badgers hope to find balance against an athletic defense.

MADISON – The old axiom was in order to beat Wisconsin, lock the Badgers' big men out of the post and keep them from going to the free throw line. Consider that part of the equation accomplished.

The Badgers, who averaged better than 20 free throws a game for Ryan's first seven years, are averaging only 17 the past two seasons. While the Badgers are shooting 79.1 percent from the line, they no longer make more free throws then their opponent's attempt (UW has made 148 attempts while opponents have attempted 172).

Wisconsin is also shooting the ball from the perimeter more than normal. Last year's 690 attempts were a record by a Ryan-coached UW team - 94 more than the 2007-08 team that last won a Big Ten title - and have already attempted 262 threes this season, an average of 21.8 per game.

But even with opponents are following the blueprint, Wisconsin, for the most part, has taken advantage of what each opponent has given them.

The Badgers (10-2) are shooting 45.7 percent overall and 38.2 percent of their 3-pointers. After the Badgers shot 10-for-17 from three-point range in their last outing against Green Bay, UW torched Coppin State and its 1-2-2 zone in its final non-conference tune-up, making 17 of 38 three-pointers.

The 17 threes set a new school record and the 38 attempts were most in a regulation game. The record is 40 in a 70-67 double-overtime loss to Temple on Dec. 2001.

"It's the way teams have played us and if teams have that in their philosophy, that's fine," UW Coach Bo Ryan said. "I learned that playing marble and flipping baseball cards. If the other team or other guy has a strategy, I just try to find a way to beat them. That's all you can do. In racquetball, somebody kept trying to go to your backhand, thinking you have a weak backhand … you get a good backhand and you put them away with it."

Over the last three games against border-rival Minnesota, the Badgers' opponent in the conference opener Tuesday, the Gophers have successful spiked aces past Wisconsin, limiting UW to only 57 points per game.

In the last two games against Minnesota, nearly half of Wisconsin's shots (48.1 percent) have come from three-point range, a way to try to combat the Gophers zone coverage. The results haven't been pretty, as the Badgers have shot only 36 percent (18-for-50) from three-point range and got very little production in the paint.

In the two team's only meeting last season, Wisconsin was outscored 22-6 and shot 30.7 percent in a 16-point loss at Williams Arena, the Badgers' third consecutive loss in the series.

"If you make shots, it looks like a better attack," Ryan deadpanned. "Sometimes you feel good about the way you are shooting the ball. Other times it may be a struggle. As long as you take good shots, they are open shots, we moved the ball and made the defense work, then shoot it. We don't agonize over it because you can't change it. Once it's released, you think it's in, and I like shooters who think that way."

One of those shooters is Leuer, who has been on a tear all season for Wisconsin. The Orono, Minn., native leads the team with 19.8 points per game and has scored at least 19 points in all seven home games for the Badgers.

With 19 points Thursday, Leuer now needs seven points to become the 36th player in Wisconsin history – and 10th player in Bo Ryan's 10 seasons at UW -- to score 1,000 career points. The All-Big Ten selection could have reached the mark last week if it wasn't for one of his worst shooting performances last February against Minnesota.

Returning to the lineup after missing nine games with a broken bone in his non-shooting wrist, Leuer finished with only four points on 2 of 12 shooting in his final game at Williams Arena. Since then, Leuer's confidence has been off the charts, part of which comes after playing summer basketball with Team USA.

"Jon Leuer is a weapon, inside or out," Ryan said. "If they cover him, some other guys have been finding themselves open. Cover or uncover. If they cover him, somebody else is uncovered."

While other teams have struggled to stop Wisconsin in the zone, the Gophers certainly have the weapons to do so.

No.14 Minnesota (11-1) has already registered impressive non-conference victories over West Virginia and North Carolina by utilizing its size inside. The Gophers have three 6-foot-8 or taller athletes that average over seven points a game, including 6-foot-11 center Ralph Sampson III (11.5 ppg) and former Marquette athlete Trevor Mbakwe, who is averaging 13.2 points in his first season at Minnesota.

Combined with senior guards Blake Hoffarber (team-best 13.2 points per game) and Al Nolen (11.2), Minnesota's speed and size equal six players averaging over nine points per game and nine players playing at least 16 minutes per game.

But while people know plenty about the Gophers, not many know that entering Big Ten play, Wisconsin leads the conference and ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 54.1 points per game while limiting opponents to just less than 39 percent from the field.

"They've been talked as one of top teams in the country from last summer on," Ryan said. "Even at the end of last year, saying Minnesota was going to be really good this year. Not a lot of conversation about Wisconsin. A lot of people know a lot more about Minnesota than they do about Wisconsin.

"I think has far as what's out in the open, information-ally speaking, there's a lot more about Minnesota out there and what they have."

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