MADISON – Vitto Brown has played enough games at the University of Wisconsin to not worry about overhauling things when going through a slump. That doesn’t make dealing with the ball not going through the basket any easier.
In the three games since scoring a season-high 16 points against Penn State, Brown has gone 3-for-23 from the floor, including 1-for-15 from 3-point range. His scoring average has dropped a half point, as well, coinciding with a knee injury that flared up three weeks ago.
In Sunday’s 65-60 win over Indiana, Brown went 1-for-8 from the floor and 0-for-5 from 3-point range. All eight of the attempts were open, but a handful came early in the shot clock without the ball touching the low post.
“I’ve made shots in practice the day before and the day before that, so it’s just a matter of not being ready to shoot when the ball came, especially with a team like Indiana who close out real quick and they are always moving,” Brown said after practice Tuesday. “That’s what I’m focusing in on going to the next game.”
UW (20-3, 9-1 Big Ten) can live with missing the open looks, but Brown knows his late gaffe will be featured in Wednesday’s clips before the team – which is now has a 1.5 game lead for first place in the Big Ten - flies to Lincoln to take on Nebraska (10-13, 4-7).
With Wisconsin inbounding the ball leading 60-54 with 41 seconds left, Brown was left open on a defensive lapse and released toward midcourt. Hit in stride by inbounder Nigel Hayes, Brown easily could have milked more time off the clock and drew a foul to send him to the free throw line, where he was 3-for-4 on the day.
He chose instead to attack the rim with the open lane ahead of him, especially with Indiana’s Thomas Bryant giving minor resistance playing with four fouls. Even with the semi-open look, Brown couldn’t execute the finger roll, bouncing off the front iron first, back iron second and eventually into the arms of Bryant to put Indiana into transition.
“They’re probably going to slow-mo it, put some music to it,” Brown joked of the upcoming team film session. “I’m ready for it. I might have to close my eyes or turn around in my chair.”
It’s easy to laugh at now, but it drew reminders for head coach Greg Gard of a situation that happened six years ago.
Wisconsin led 53-44 with 2:37 remaining in a road game at Michigan State but missed three shots and turned the ball over four times. It allowed the Spartans to close the game on a 9-0 run and win in overtime.
The spark the Spartans needed was when Wisconsin guard Rob Wilson decided to attack the basket on a fast break instead of chewing off some clock with the Badgers leading by six. The ill-advised lay-up was blocked by Draymond Green with 1:35 left in regulation.
“There’s a point in time when you take a calculated risk,” Gard said. “The times that we did it (Sunday), I didn’t think we made the wisest decision … We have to make more mature, intellectual decisions at times.”
After previously looking to the court after a missed 3-pointer from the corner, Brown looked the rafters in disbelief after seeing the result of his layup. Indiana cut the lead to three on the next possession but, thankfully for Brown, couldn’t get any closer.
“I’ve got to get that look off my face; you shouldn’t be able to know,” Brown said. “Even though I can’t see my face, obviously I can feel that and know that it’s bringing my own spirit down. It just makes the struggles continue … I can’t stop shooting. I’ve got to keep going and find ways to impact the game in other ways.”
While his shot is slumping, Brown has contributed in other facets. His defense has improved, especially in the low post, and his effort on the glass has taken an uptick in Big Ten play. Averaging 3.6 rebounds during the nonconference portion of the schedule, Brown has averaged 5.0 in 10 conference games, including grabbing seven rebounds in three of the past five games.
In two meetings against the Huskers last season, Brown averaged 6.5 rebounds, which in turned helped him average 17 points.
“The shooting and shots will come,” Gard said. “Defend, rebound, take care of the ball, run the floor in transition, be a good teammate, find the open player, all the other intangible things … those same type of things can help anybody that is struggling offensively. Any time a player gets consumed with offense first, it’s usually when they get themselves in a hole and have their mind maybe focused on the wrong things.”
Taking unnecessary risks with the ball would be an example, or trying to attempt a layup when leading by five points in the closing minutes. Before boarding the flight for the next road test, Brown hopes to put that bad decision to bed.
“That wasn’t me; I don’t know who that was that shot that layup,” Brown said, “but that won’t happen again.”