MADISON – Although Wisconsin fell one victory short of winning the Battle 4 Atlantis last week, head coach Greg Gard and his staff returned home from the Bahamas with a better feel for the personnel and potential of the team.
“I thought we learned a lot over the three games we played down there,” Gard said Monday before practice. “Some things we did really well and some areas we’ve got to continue to improve upon.”
UW (5-1), ranked No. 22 in both the USA Today and The Associated Press polls, hosts North Carolina State (6-0) at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Four UW players to watch Tuesday and beyond are sophomore guard Brad Davison, sophomore forward Nate Reuvers, redshirt sophomore forward Aleem Ford and redshirt junior guard Brevin Pritzl.
Davison is averaging 9.0 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, has hit 86.7 percent of his free throws (13 of 15) and is tied with Khalil Iverson for the team lead in steals with seven. He is shooting just 33.3 percent from three-point range and 36.2 percent overall, though.
The biggest difference for Davison this season is that D’Mitrik Trice, who missed all but 10 games last season, gets the ball in late in the shot clock.
“I’m still trying to find my niche offensively,” Davison said. “Still trying to figure out how I fit in in different places.
“Last year I had the ball in my hands a lot more. This year I’ve got to find how to make opportunities without the ball. It’s something I’m still learning how to do. I’ve been up and down offensively. I know that will come.”
Gard believes Davison needs to avoid the urge to force offense.
“Taking the game as it comes to him is something he continues to work through,” he said. “And shot selection. The type of shots he ends up taking is something we continue to evaluate and help him with.”
Reuvers has provided solid defense, is shooting 54.5 percent from three-point range (6 of 11) and is averaging 7.5 points per game.
Gard wants to see Revuers demand the ball more, particularly near the basket.
“We need to find him, too,” Gard said. “There’s some guys in the post that we’ve missed that have been open. That has been my thing – other guys can catch the ball and do things in there other than Ethan.”
Another area of need is rebounding. Reuvers generally has kept his man off the glass but he is averaging just 2.3 rebounds per game.
“I know he has had a block-out responsibility to try to keep somebody off the glass,” Gard said, “but I’d love to see him attack the ball a little bit more off the glass, too.”
Ford’s forte last season was three-point shooting. He shot 44.4 percent from three-point range and 63 of his 92 field-goal attempts were from beyond the arc.
Ford underwent surgery on his left knee Oct. 31 and made his season debut at the Battle 4 Atlantis. He played in all three games, but his timing was clearly off from the lack of work and he was limited to a total of 14 minutes.
“All parts of his game have evolved,” Gard said when asked about Ford’s development after last season. “Better defender. Better ball-handler. Scoring at the other two levels.
“I think that you attribute that to experience – another year of adding strength, adding weight and all the reps that he got a year ago. All those continue to be put in his bank, so to speak.
“We’ve just go to help him get back to where he was.”
Pritzl is shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range and 45.0 percent overall but played a combined 33 minutes in the Battle 4 Atlantis and took only two shots. He is averaging 5.5 points per game.
“We have let him know that he’s got to be more aggressive,” UW assistant Dean Oliver said. “He does a lot of things with his cutting but he needs to do it to score.
“He is one of the best shooters in the country. He can shoot it that well. So he’s got to give the team the gift that he has.”
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