Scoring draught does not worry Wilkinson, coaches

Badger forward has tallied only a total of 16 points in past three games

Mike Wilkinson has, since the day he stepped foot on the University of Wisconsin campus, been the consummate team player. This year, however, was supposed to be the season he took the Badgers' men's basketball reigns, becoming the team's top scoring option in the absence of Dallas Maverick point guard Devin Harris.

So it has come as some surprise to watch Wilkinson tally a total of 16 points in his last three games, taking just 16 shots in the process.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound senior forward was named preseason first-team All-Big Ten for a reason. He was one of the league's best players a year ago, and was absolutely dominant in the Badgers' run to the Big Ten Tournament title.

The aggressive Wilkinson who scored 53 points in three games in Indianapolis last March, however, has looked passive in the early going this season, aside from a 19-point outburst in UW's season-opening win over Penn. Even in that game, though, Wilkinson took just nine shots, a total he matched or surpassed 16 times last season.

"That doesn't bother me," Wilkinson said of his scoring slump. "If I get open shots I'm going to take them. I had some open shots in the last game we played and they just didn't go down. If I'm knocking down those shots I get wherever I was last year and nobody says anything."

There is no need for alarm. Wilkinson has played good basketball in helping Wisconsin to a 3-1 start and has remained confident in his offensive game. For the fourth consecutive season he is leading the team in rebounding, he continues to play very good post defense and he always does the little things. He is even leading the Badgers in assists this year, albeit with just 2.0 per game.

"Mentally he's still going to the right things and he's hustling, getting rebounds, loose balls," assistant coach Rob Jeter said. "So you know he's there, it's just a matter of him now being a little more aggressive on the offensive end when he catches the ball."

That was strikingly clear in the Badgers' 69-64 win over No. 12 Maryland Tuesday night at the Kohl Center. Wilkinson scored just four points on 2 of 7 shooting but he contributed to the win in myriad ways, drawing three charges and tallying a team-high eight rebounds and a game-high three blocked shots.

"I don't think it's a need to panic right now," Jeter said. "I just think he just needs to get a little more aggressive there, take a few more shots. Because he's got opportunities. He's got to take them now."

"If he's open, he gets it. And if he's not he's going to set screens for other guys," head coach Bo Ryan said. "But he's gone through that before, where some games he gets more shots than others, because he's not going to get much off the dribble."

Wilkinson has not had three consecutive single-digit scoring games since his sophomore year, when he had a stretch of six straight single-digit efforts. Following that string he concluded the 2002-03 season with double figures in 11 of the last 15 games, including seven of the last eight. He then scored in double figures in 22 of 32 games last year. He did, however, have two games last season where he was held to two points.

"For me the whole goal is just to win games," Wilkinson said. "Whether it's taking shots and scoring points or playing defense and rebounding the ball. Whatever it takes I'm going to try and do to help the team win."

In averaging 11.1 points per game his first three seasons, Wilkinson ceded to Kirk Penney his first two years and Harris for all three. Those players, in particular Harris, could create shots for themselves. Wilkinson, on the other hand, has to rely on players to get him the ball in positions to score.

"For the first time now, everyone's looking at Mike in a different light," Jeter said. "As a guy that should be one of the go-to guys. So it's just an adjustment period."

"It's just working some things out, getting a feel for different people on the floor. For the most part everything feels good," Wilkinson said.

As the Badgers only returning starter, Wilkinson not only has had to deal with higher expectations but with more attention from opponents. Rather than force shots for himself, Wilkinson has instead focused on setting the table for players like sophomore forward Alando Tucker, who had 27 points against Maryland.

"Sometimes you don't have maybe the kind of shooting percentage that you want or maybe because of what people are doing defensively," Ryan said. "It happens all the time in this country to teams and to individuals."

Wilkinson's quasi-slump does not worry Ryan. He is still drawing attention in the post and on the perimeter, which has opened opportunities for his teammates.

"Mike's not trying to do anything out of the offense," Ryan said. "He still works within the framework."


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