MADISON – Although his confidence has had moments of wavering during his career at Wisconsin, Jordan Hill didn’t need a game like Thursday to give him a jump start or regain his swagger. But it certainly didn’t hurt.
Having played five minutes or less in the first three Big Ten games, Hill played a season-high 18 minutes and hit his first 3-pointers in nearly two months in the Badgers’ 89-66 win over Ohio State.
“It felt good just to be back on the court and get a few shots up and see them go down,” Hill said after Sunday’s practice. “I shoot every day, so it’s not new to me.”
It may not be a new experience, but it still is probably different than what Hill originally imagined. Figuring to have a slightly bigger role in 2016-17, Hill has seen his numbers decrease in part to his shooting struggles and the emergence of true freshman D'Mitrik Trice.
Entering tomorrow’s Big Ten home game against Michigan (12-6, 2-3 Big Ten), Trice has developed into head coach Greg Gard’s top option off the bench, averaging 17.9 minutes (tops among the reserves) and scoring 6.3 points, 27 assists to 15 turnovers and shooting 54.1 percent from 3-point range.
After averaging 19.6 minutes and 4.1 points in 18 Big Ten games last season, Hill has slipped to 9.4 minutes (fourth most among the reserves) and is scoring 1.9 points on 37.5 percent shooting. Even with his 2-for-4 shooting Thursday (ending a 0-for-10 skid that stretched over 12 games), Hill is just 5-for-20 from 3-point range this season and 23-for-75 (30.7 percent) for his career.
“I always trust myself, but there have been moments where I really don’t know what to do at this point,” Hill said. “I try to control what I can control, and that comes from me being here and spending as much time as I can on my game. I trust my shot. I trust what I know how to do on defense. I know I am a great defender, so I just rely on those things.”
Instead of primarily running with the starters, Hill has been spent the majority of time on the scout team and not working with the top group. While that could pose a hindrance to a younger player, Hill - midway through his fourth year in the program – has been able to prepare the starters while prepping himself.
“I’ve been here for so long that a lot of the stuff we run on scout hasn’t really changed, especially when we get to league play, so it’s not really new,” Hill said. “When I’m over on that side, I try to do what we’re told to do, but at the same time I try to work on things. I’m a smart player, so I can pick up when the defense it trying to key it on certain things. Or when we’re on offense and the scout team is on defense, I can pick up on what the play is or when the screen is coming. It really hasn’t been a problem for me.”
That knowledge base was vital against Ohio State. Inserted with Trice at the 13:23 mark of the first half, Hill corralled an offensive rebound on his first possession, eventually leading to a Trice 3-pointer. On his third possession, Hill hit a 3-pointer on a feed from senior Bronson Koenig to give Wisconsin a 22-16 lead.
He hit second 3-pointer on a feed from forward Ethan Happ to make the score 37-22, giving him multiple 3-pointers for the first time since the opener. Hill also played a hand in defending senior Marc Loving, who came in averaging 11.6 points and was held to five points on 2-for-7 shooting.
“For not having receiving a lot of reps recently (with the rotation), he still understood what we wanted to do,” Gard said. “… He’s always paying attention and picking that up. Knowing that, I wasn’t uncomfortable putting him in that situation. He’s played before, so he understands, but I thought he just did what he does well … It’s nice to see him take advantage and really help us because he gave us a boost there.”
Asked what the big growth in his game has been through the season, Hill cites his court vision. Working off of screens on scout team has improved Hill’s passing and cut down on his miscues. After averaging a turnover every 24.6 minutes and an assist every 19.5, Hill has made only three turnovers in 150 minutes this season while making an assist every 15 minutes (10 assists).
"I think I’ve grown offensively,” Hill said. “I’m better off the dribble, just all around really. It’s just a matter of making my opportunities count when I get them.”
Hill tends to find the bright spot in most situations. Needing to take Consumer Science 257, a statistical research analysis class that dealt with how to make statistics relate to real-world consumer issues, Hill had to miss large portions of Tuesday and Thursday practices.
“It was tough, but you’ve got to do what you got to do,” Hill said. “I couldn’t really do much about it. I tried to plan around it but that was the only time the class was offered. That’s just part about being a student athlete.”
Hill survived the class. And now only six credits away from getting his degree, his main focus is finding a way to contribute to the depth off the bench.