Selecting shots

Alando Tucker would like fellow forward Mike Wilkinson to demand the ball

MADISON – After watching Mike Wilkinson take just four shots in Wisconsin's 70-59 loss to top-ranked Illinois Saturday, Alando Tucker said he would like his teammate to be more assertive. Wilkinson, the University of Wisconsin's second-leading scorer, made all four attempts for eight points, snapping a 14-game double-figure scoring streak.

"Looking at this Illinois game, when Mike touched the ball he did a lot of positive things," Tucker said. "I talked to Mike after the game, like, ‘once you get down there in the low post demand the ball.'"

A few moments later, though, Tucker lauded Wilkinson's unselfishness.

"He never tries to force anything," Tucker said. "He took four shots the last game and you don't see him complain about that."

"I'm not going to take shots that aren't going to help the team," said Wilkinson, who averages 13.9 points per game.

Wilkinson, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, is just one part of a Wisconsin (16-6 overall, 7-4 Big Ten) team that prides itself on its unselfish demeanor, which it will put on display at 8 p.m. tonight when it plays host to Michigan (12-13, 3-8) at the Kohl Center here.

Throughout the Big Ten, UW is lauded for its altruistic operation of the "swing" offense, a system that is predicated on always having five players on the court who can score in the post and make perimeter jumpers.

"I think that's the beauty of the offense is that a lot of different people can score in different areas," assistant coach Gary Close said. "So one night it might be Mike because of a certain matchup and another night it might be somebody else.

"I think what you do is go into the game, you take what the defense gives you. We've got enough players that they try to take something away than hopefully it's going to open up something else for somebody else."

The Badgers' insistence on sharing the wealth, though, means that even players as good as Wilkinson can be taken away. Saturday, Illinois pressured the ball and played tough defense on the post, forcing Wilkinson out of his comfort zone.

"There are times where I need to demand the ball more…and just get the ball where I can do something with it," Wilkinson said. "It doesn't have to be just shooting the ball… Putting it on the floor, drawing help and kicking. Things like that that I can do to just help this team."

Other Badgers have taken noteworthy turns with a skinny stat line, but Wilkinson's production may be the most important to the team's success. Wisconsin is just 8-6 when Wilkinson attempts 10 or fewer shots in a game and is a perfect 8-0 when he takes more than 10.

"At this point I'm looking at our team and I'm telling them we have to get Mike the ball down there because he's going to get a foul or he's going to score," Tucker said.

Meanwhile, senior guard Clayton Hanson, the Big Ten's leading 3-point shooter at 45 percent, has attempted one field goal – a missed 3 – in 65 minutes played over the last two games. He has been held scoreless in back-to-back games for the first time since he played 17 total minutes versus Marquette and Ohio on Dec. 20 and Dec. 27, 2003.

"In Clayton's case, he hasn't been open," UW assistant coach Greg Gard said. "He's been a marked man on the scouting report in terms of ‘you don't let him catch and shoot the basketball.' So, credit to him he hasn't tried to force anything."

The idea behind the swing, and most basketball systems, is that when a player or a particular option is restricted, other opportunities will develop.

Consider UW's Big Ten opening win at Purdue Jan. 5. The Boilermakers clogged the lane defensively, holding the Badgers to 14 points in the paint. UW, though, connected on 14 of 22 3-pointers in a 77-68 victory.

Against Purdue, Zach Morley made 6 of 8 triples for a career-high 22 points, but since that game he has found far fewer open looks and has averaged 3.6 points per game in nine outings.

Said Gard: "Within the swing, being an equal opportunity offense, your best players usually get the majority of your shots, just because they know how to get into position.

"The option is always there for anybody to either dive in the post, attack a gap; there is never anything where you are told where you can't do something. If the opportunity presents itself, there is always the freedom to do that, whether it be attack off the dribble, flash into the post, try to pin your man – those are always options."

True to form, the Badgers have consistently taken what the defense has allotted them this season, rarely forcing bad shots. Six different players have led the team in scoring along the way.

In last week's win over Iowa, UW was largely held in check until Wilkinson and point guard Kammron Taylor erupted down the stretch, combining for 25 points in the final 10:01 of the game.

"Again, you just kind of take what the defense gives you," Close said. "It's not something you can really orchestrate out. Sometimes it's on the fly as the game goes on."

Despite only getting four shots for Wilkinson, UW was very efficient against Illinois, shooting 47 percent and producing 0.98 points per possession, a mark head coach Bo Ryan said was, "About as high as you can get without getting a ‘W'."

Against the Illini Tucker took advantage of additional opportunities, scoring 24 points on 9 of 18 shooting. Tucker, though, wants Wilkinson to keep more chances for himself as the Badgers close out the 2004-05 campaign.

"He's always looking to get somebody else open," Tucker said, "but at times he just has to be very assertive and just say, ‘I'm going to post up and I'm not going to move.' We have to see that and get him the ball."

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