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March Madness 2016: Confidence, mindset helping Nigel Hayes through shooting slump

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The Badgers' forward and best player has struggled offensively over the last three games. The good news? It's in the past, and Wisconsin is still playing.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Nigel Hayes doesn't believe in momentum. He thinks the "hot hand" is a term that gets overplayed. He talks about regression to the mean.

For the Wisconsin Badgers' junior forward, this approach to the game coupled with unwavering confidence has been helpful in the midst of a season-worst offensive slump.

When postseason play began for the Badgers, their first-team All-Big Ten performer suddenly seemed to have a lid placed on the rim. Nothing is falling. Hayes is 7-of-42 over that stretch (16.7 percent) and 0-of-17 from three-point range, averaging just 9.3 points per game.

Knowing the ever-confident Hayes, if he is willing to announce his secret admiration for Lea from "Glee" at a press conference, these current struggles won't get to him. Even before a 2-of-10 shooting performance in Sunday's dramatic second-round NCAA tournament win over Xavier, Hayes was confident in his shot.

If regression to the mean -- or, simply, a hot-shooting basketball player or team coming back down to earth -- exists, then what about the opposite?

"It has to progress to the mean," Hayes said in the locker room on Saturday, one day after Wisconsin's 47-43 win over Pittsburgh. "It has to. Mathematically, it has to. I think I'm 0-of-13 my last two games from three, so the biggest part is to not lose confidence. Shooting the ball, 90 percent of the battle is confidence."

Expect Hayes to keep on working through his current three-game slump.

On Tuesday, Hayes told reporters that he spent two hours putting up shots on his own time the day before.

After a 30-point performance against Purdue in the regular-season finale, Hayes was shooting 42 percent on twos and 33 percent on threes. Then? 2-of-15 against Nebraska, 3-of-17 against Pitt and 2-of-10 against Xavier.

Much like his head coach Greg Gard, Hayes keeps an even-keel approach to the game.

"It's always been one of the things I was big on," Hayes said. "[Gard] preaches the same thing. Don't get too high, too low. And when you're shooting bad, you don't want to think you're the worst player and if you shoot well one game, you don't want to think you're Steph Curry from behind the arc now."

Following the win against Xavier, Gard said to reporters that he told guard Bronson Koenig to keep shooting despite a slump of his own. The result? A career-best six triples, including the game-tying and winning threes in the final 11 seconds. Expect the approach to be the same with Hayes.

"We just got to make sure that we keep working, take shots that we're comfortable with and we'll be alright," Hayes said.