STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It was past midnight and Dean Oliver was still making his way home from the Kohl Center when he received a long text message from D’Mitrik Trice.
Hours earlier, the sophomore point guard for the 22nd-ranked University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team had played his worst game of the season in the 59-52 home loss to Minnesota. As Thursday night turned to Friday morning, Trice put down some thoughts and questions before sending them off to Oliver, a UW assistant coach who works closely with the guards.
It was late, and both Oliver and Trice needed some sleep. The former told the latter he’d cut up some video clips and they’d meet for a review session on Friday. But Oliver appreciated the fact Trice was eager to find solutions.
“The point guard position is such a tough position,” said Oliver, was a four-year starter at the position for Iowa before beginning a pro career that included a brief stint in the NBA. “You’ve honestly got to be willing to take the blame for the losses, and I think he’s humbled enough to say, ‘All right, I’ve got to play better.’ That’s what we’re going to work on and that’s what he’s going to do.”
Part of the reason the urgency was ratcheted up for Trice was the Minnesota game was his second poor performance in as many games. He’d also struggled in an 83-76 loss at Western Kentucky five days earlier.
In fact, Trice hasn’t played well in any of the defeats. He’s shot 31 percent overall (12 of 39) and 19 percent from 3-point range (4 of 21) in UW’s four losses compared to 53 percent overall (61 of 115) and 59 percent from beyond the arc (35 of 59) in its 10 wins.
When he was asked after the Minnesota game whether the Badgers not being able to survive off nights from Trice was a coincidence or a legit issue, UW coach Greg Gard pointed out there were multiple factors that played roles into the team’s losses.
In fact, those shooting struggles were well down the list of Gard’s concerns when it came time to evaluate Trice’s play. Trice is still leading the Big Ten in 3-point percentage, by the way, but he’s dipped below 50 percent for the first time all season after going 9 of 30 over the past five games.
“I didn’t get too wound up in 60 percent from (3-point range), I got more consumed with, was he playing a complete game,” Gard said. “Was he doing things to distribute the ball? Was he making good decisions? Was his defense better? Those things I was more consumed with and knowing that 60 percent probably wasn’t going to stay there, there were going to be some ebbs and flows throughout the year, there were going to be some ups and downs.”
Trice’s hot start to the season made him a priority on opposing scouting reports. He’s noticed opponents icing ball screens more often and trying to force him to his left, thus keeping him from what had been his hot area on the right wing.
“I just need to continue to work on finding the open teammates and making the right reads,” Trice said.
Trice had a career-high four turnovers against Minnesota, three of which were caused by him leaving his feet and forcing passes.
After one of those miscues in the second half, Trice went to the bench for a span of 7 minutes, 29 seconds. He returned and hit two shots to help spark a rally, but Trice was stripped at midcourt by Dupree McBrayer after UW had pulled to within two and had another turnover two possessions later.
“It’s a no-no, and it’s hard not to do it because guys are so long and you’re trying to just find a way to get the ball there,” Oliver said of Trice leaving his feet. “But it’s a habit that you have to build and it starts with eliminating it completely in practice.”
Oliver also was critical of Trice’s shot selection in recent games. Trice consistently delivered in late shot-clock situations early in the season, helping UW post impressive wins over the likes of Oklahoma, Iowa and North Carolina State. Now, he’s as ice cold as he was red hot, and Oliver believes part of that has to do with the type of shots Trice is taking.
“He’s probably pulled up too many times,” Oliver said. “He’s taken some forced ones, which you can do when you’re shooting 60 percent, obviously you have a longer leash to take some tough ones.
“But you have to have that awareness of when your shot’s not falling, how else can you help the team? What do we need as a team? Looking at his abilities, looking at who else we have on the team, he’s one of the main guys that needs to create other than Ethan (Happ). He needs to create for others and get to the rim and draw some fouls and not just pull up every time.”
Oliver arrived at a meeting with Trice following practice Friday night armed with video clips from recent games and practices. He also planned to deliver a message about the importance of his role on the team.
“He just has to refocus, and it’s about your job as a point guard vs. your job as a scorer,” Oliver said. “And he has both jobs, which is hard to balance. ‘Coaches are asking me to do this, this and this, and score. But I like to score.’
“Everybody likes to score. How do you balance it all and keep everybody happy? He’s got to refocus on the right things.”