MADISON – The numbers add up yet make little sense.
Through six Big Ten games this season, Wisconsin’s offensive efficiency at times has resembled that of a team capable of routinely scoring in the 80s.
Other times the offense has resembled the 2012-’13 UW team that in 35 games failed to score 60 points 12 times, including seven times when the Badgers failed to reach the 50-point mark.
The disparity between the first and second half this season has been striking.
“It’s pretty evident,” sophomore guard Brad Davison acknowledged.
UW in Big Ten play is averaging 25.2 points per game in the first half and 42.1 points per game in the second half, a difference of 16.9 points.
UW in the first half has shot 22.4 percent from three-point range (11 of 49) and 40.1 percent overall (65 of 162).
UW in the second half has shot 47.9 percent from three-point range (35 of 73) and 54.3 percent overall (94 of 173).
“We’re always searching for answers to try to get off to a better start,” UW assistant Joe Krabbenhoft acknowledged, cautioning that six games might not offer enough data. “We don’t say anything at halftime that is different than at the beginning of the game. We tell them to play with a sense of urgency, play aggressive and play confident.”
Only once in six league games have the Badgers shot at least 50 percent in the opening half. That came in an overtime loss to Purdue when UW hit 15 of 26 shots (57.7 percent) and trailed by one point at the break.
Can UW (11-6, 3-3 Big Ten) score often enough to hand No. 2 Michigan (17-0, 6-0) its first loss of the season when the teams meet at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Kohl Center?
The Wolverines are limiting teams to 30.2 percent shooting from three-point range, 39.7 percent overall, have made more free throws (207) than their opponents have attempted (201) and are allowing just 56.6 points per game.
“They are aggressive collectively and individually,” Krabbenhoft said when asked about Michigan’s defense. “They do a really good job of putting you on your heels. Great team defense. One guy gets out of position – Boom! – there is a teammate or two teammates picking him up.”
With Zavier Simpson harassing opposing point guards and length on the wings and an eraser in the lane in 7-foot-1, 260-pound center Jon Teske, the Wolverines have the ability to shut teams down for long stretches.
And prolonged scoring droughts have left UW facing double-digit deficits in the opening half in three of six league games.
Minnesota held a 29-14 halftime lead largely because UW hit 6 of 26 shots. Purdue built a 25-14 lead with 9:05 left in the half before UW rallied. Maryland built a 33-15 halftime lead largely because UW hit 2 of its last 17 shots after starting 5 for 9.
UW rallied to within two of Minnesota before losing by seven, led Purdue by as many as four points in the second half before faltering in overtime and wiped out a 21-point second-half deficit at Maryland to lead by one before losing by four.
Poor shot selection and turnovers have been issues in the first half of games, including the loss to Maryland during which UW turned the ball over seven times and went scoreless on 10 consecutive possessions.
“We took a lot of tough shots unnecessarily,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “Not even in desperation mode. And we also didn’t touch the post enough early.”
The 10-possession drought included three turnovers, three missed jumpers and two drives blocked by Bruno Fernando. UW rarely touched the post or reversed the ball before shooting.
“I can do a lot of things differently,” guard D’Mitrik Trice said, “whether that is getting into the lane and making easier shots for other guys or finding the open teammates.
“We took a lot of jump shots early instead of getting it into the post.”
UW moved the ball more crisply from side to side in the second half at Maryland, cut its turnover total to one from seven and scored 45 of its 60 points.
“We played inside-out,” Gard said. “We were aggressive going to the rim. We were aggressive on the perimeter. Much better decisions in the second half.”
Better decisions lead to better shots, shorter scoreless stretches and more points.
Worse decisions lead to tougher shots, longer scoreless stretches and fewer points.
“That is how we dig ourselves into holes in the first half,” Ethan Happ said. “When you score 15 points in the first half it is tough to overcome.”