The Wisconsin Badgers suffered a 54-52 loss at the hands of the Northwestern Wildcats, dropping their ninth game of the season and suffering another setback after a win against Ohio State on Thursday.
The hot topic of the loss? Chucky Hepburn’s questionable late-game shot selection.
Hepburn took Wisconsin’s last four shots, sinking one contested stepback jumper, but missing the other three, allowing Northwestern to take over and eventually secure a win.
Following the game, when asked about the choices in shot selection, Hepburn and head coach Greg Gard had differing opinions on the point guard’s decision-making.
Speaking to reporters about his last two attempts, Hepburn attempted to justify his shot selection, asserting that the second jumper was a good shot, while adding his belief that he was fouled.
“The first [shot when] I got blocked, I should’ve jump stopped,” Hepburn said. “The second one, I think it was the right shot. I think I got fouled, but they didn’t call it, so it’s a play on.”
When asked whether he would’ve made the same decisions on his last four shot attempts if given a second chance, Hepburn answered that his teammates trust him with decision-making.
“I know my teammates believe in me to make the right decisions, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
However, it wasn’t the same sentiment as his head coach, who didn’t agree with Hepburn’s decision-making, believing that his guard should’ve looked to attack the rim and cause contact instead of settling for contested jumpers.
“The shots need to be better. The one he got in there and got the shot blocked, [Chucky] had a chance to draw contact.”
While Gard trusts Hepburn's judgment given his resume at Wisconsin, the Badgers’ head coach disagreed with the decision-making, given the situation of the game.
“He’s made winning plays for us through his year and a half so far, so you trust his judgment to get the best shot that he can get. But, I thought, at that point, we’re in a position where you go draw contact, and if not contact, you’re at the rim. So, we’ll show those things tomorrow and help him get better with it.
On the play referenced above, it did appear that Hepburn was fouled by Boo Buie, however; it was a poor shot selection and a costly decision that eventually gave the Wildcats a three-point lead following Buie’s free throws.
Gard and Hepburn differed in other areas too, as the head coach believed that Wisconsin lost due to its inefficiency on the offensive end, while the guard pointed to the Badgers’ defensive identity.
“In a lower possession game like this, [we] got to be much more efficient,” Gard said. “Foul line is a part of it. Getting better shots, specifically there when you have two or three possessions down the stretch to be able to take the lead or tie.”
However, when asked about how Wisconsin can reach its winning ways once again, Hepburn pointed toward the defense, rather than the struggling offense.
“We’ve got to establish our identity on defense. That’s what we were really good at in November and December,” said Hepburn. “Once we establish our identity on the defensive side, offense will come much easier for us.”
On the other hand, Gard praised Wisconsin’s defense, which held Northwestern to 46.7% shooting and only 26.7% from three.
“Obviously, [we] did some good things defensively. Offensively, [we] got to take care of the ball a little bit better and obviously make free throws [and] make plays down the stretch.”
In this instance, Gard is correct. The Badgers cannot continue to blame the defensive end, which has been strong, especially on a night where they allowed just 54 points.
The offensive woes need to be highlighted because Wisconsin has been inefficient all season, especially from the free-throw line, which has forced them to play nearly perfectly on the defensive end in order to win games.