BRYAN FAUST/Herald PhotoNumerically, the numbers representing the slump are dauntingly similar.One year ago, the Badgers started the season 20-6-1 before winning just once in their final nine games heading into the playoffs.Fast-forward to today, where, after being swept by Minnesota State this weekend, the Badgers are now 3-7-1 in their last 11 games after starting the season losing only twice in their first 22 contests.After Saturday’s 7-3 upset drubbing, UW head coach Mike Eaves acknowledged that his team is floundering a bit, but also made it clear that despite this being the third-straight year involving a second-half slump, this year’s situation is different.”It’s a different scenario. We lost our starting goaltender; we get him back. Have we done some things different this year? Absolutely,” Eaves said. “We’ve backed off on Mondays, we’ve created rec days. When people say, ‘Same old, same old,’ I don’t think they’re on the inside knowing what’s going on.”At his Monday news conference, the fourth-year head coach further addressed what needs to be done to pull his team out of a slump, including a small change in the practice schedule this week.”Today is a day that we would normally leave to the men to have a recreational day, but based on where we’re at right now, we need to get back to some fundamentals and some basics, so we’ll get back to that type of practice today,” Eaves said.At the same time, Eaves is not planning on pushing the players too much harder during those practices. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be pushing themselves.Following a 20-minute players-only meeting subsequent to Saturday’s defeat, the Badgers acknowledged they have to get back to practicing harder. While they may have led some to believe that the coaching staff wasn’t pushing them enough, they were more adamant about how it was their responsibility to work harder, especially at drills that they began to take for granted.”I think guys are trying to find answers too. So they’re looking at each other,” Eaves said. “Good for them that they had a team meeting … but at the same time … we just need to go back to some square-one things. We’ll go back and primarily do the same things we’ve done.”Getting Elliott back: There’s no question that the loss of Elliott to injury six weeks ago hurt the Badgers. But getting him back in the lineup may have been just as altering to the Badgers.”When we became the 18-2-2 team that we were … we had a young goaltender who developed himself into one of the top players in the country. And our team fed off that. … He gave us confidence to play in front of him,” Eaves said. “With Brian getting hurt, that was a change for us. And now, with Brian coming back and maybe not being where he [was], I see guys getting caught in between.”While getting him back has prompted yet another change, Eaves also said his team isn’t hitting the panic button.”I don’t think [panic] has set in,” he said. “There [were] times when we had systems breakdowns before, and who was there for them? Brian. And that allowed them to make mistakes … and now they’re in between.”Eaves also confirmed that Elliott is, if not at 100 percent healthy, he is very close, and that Eaves suspects the junior will start Friday when Wisconsin opens its regular season finale against St. Cloud State.”I think it’s just mentally believing and knowing he can stop the puck,” Eaves said. “When you stop the puck it builds your confidence level up. That’s what he’s got to do this week in practice and then carry that into this week in practice.”UW’s ranking drops: The weekend sweep dropped Wisconsin, which was No. 2 in USCHO.com’s national rankings last week, into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the most recent poll.In the PairWise rankings, the Badgers clung to the No. 2 spot.”I’m not a numbers guy, either,” Eaves said. “I’m trying to work on daily practices and figuring out where guys are at emotionally, mentally and physically. Those are things that we can control.”Minnesota carried the No. 1 ranking again this week, earning all but two of the No. 1 votes.The Gophers are followed by Miami (Ohio), Boston University and Michigan State, while Colorado College will share the fifth spot with UW this week.Eaves feels that, whether Elliott can return to his prior form or not, the Badgers can find their way back and achieve their ultimate goal of a national championship as the season winds down.”I think that if everybody chips in, if everybody gets better in all areas of their game, then that would perhaps [pull us through],” Eaves said. “If [Elliott] gets back to a certain level and our defense and forwards play a little higher level, knowing where Brian’s at, then that will all help.”
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Freshman Sam Dekker has provided a consistent scoring role off the bench for Wisconsin this season, but has rarely been joined by fellow bench players in the scoring department for UW.[/media-credit]Offense – B-The magic number for the Badgers has been 60 this season. Wisconsin’s record in games in which the team scores 60 points or more is an impressive 15-2, compared to 2-7 in the games the squad has scored less than that amount.Both of UW’s wins this past week came thanks to steady offensive production in the Michigan game and timely scoring during its contest with Iowa. The Badgers actually outshot the Wolverines this past Saturday, shooting 43.9 percent from the field.The Badgers once again relied heavily on the three, shooting a combined 49 attempts from beyond the arc, making 17 of them for a 35 percent conversion rate. The reliance on the three almost cost Wisconsin in its double-overtime win against Iowa, highlighted by senior forward Mike Bruesewitz’s 0-for-6 shooting performance from deep.But the team has displayed a recent renewal in attacking the paint, getting increased touches to redshirt fifth-year seniors Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans on the blocks. The aggressiveness has paid off, mainly because of the athletic prowess of the pair, forcing doubles from both the Hawkeyes and Wolverines.Although at times the offense went through prolonged droughts that almost cost them both games, the move toward balancing the offense with an added emphasis of attacking down low has helped to free up open Wisconsin looks from all over the floor.Also of note, the team went 1-for-1 on 45-foot heaves this past week. So, they have that going for them, which is nice.Defense – B+Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the type of players who can make even the strongest defenders look silly by regularly sinking shots with a hand in their face. Such was the case when Hardaway hit a three-pointer with little more than two seconds on the clock despite a lockdown defensive possession from Bruesewitz.Hardaway had an efficient 8-of-17 night from the field and finished with 18 points, while Burke, the Batman to Hardaway’s Robin, scored 19 on 8-of-21 shooting. Sophomore guard Traevon Jackson defended Burke for much of the game and kept him to only seven points in the opening half. The Wolverines’ star point guard took over the way elite players do for certain stretches of the second half, but when guarding a player of Burke’s caliber, it’s about limiting the damage as opposed to fully taking him out of the game.Similar defensive play against Iowa was critical to the Badgers pulling off the victory over Iowa Wednesday night. While the Hawkeyes lack the athletically gifted players of Michigan, star forward Aaron White managed only 30 percent shooting from the field and 13 points. Iowa shot less than 34 percent as a team and a dismal 21.7 percent from three-point land, allowing UW to earn a victory despite an equally ineffective night shooting the ball.Starters – BBesides junior guard Ben Brust, who was just named co-Big Ten Player of the Week, and Berggren, the Badgers’ starting five on offense were far from perfect at times this past week.Sure, Evans had a combined 26 points in the last two games, but his efficiency and shot selection were less than stellar. Evans made just one 15-foot jumper while going a combined 10-for-29 from the field. The majority of Evans’ made baskets came from his renewed presence in the low blocks, posting up his defender and getting easy looks inside. Evans was also one of the Wisconsin starters who was much cleaner and aggressive in his cuts to the basket, not only helping lead to open looks but also freeing up outside looks.Jackson was solid at the point, but still continued to struggle with limiting his turnovers, committing a combined 10 in the Badgers’ two wins compared to just nine assists.Defensively, the group held Michigan to less than 40 percent shooting from the floor and Iowa to less than 35 percent. And although star UM players Burke and Hardaway got their points, almost every look was contested by UW’s starting lineup. Sometimes, good players just make shots – as seen by the three-pointer by Hardaway over Bruesewitz in the waning seconds of regulation.Berggren played well, but aside from the explosive dunk against the Wolverines, he has still yet to put on a dominating offensive performance. Whether that’s because teams are doubling him or he draws attention away from the ball doesn’t matter, Berggren will still need to score more than the 11.9 points per game he averages down the stretch if Wisconsin hopes to win the conference for the first time since 2008.Bench – CIn what is becoming an increasingly familiar tale, freshman forward Sam Dekker is turning into the one-man star of Wisconsin’s bench. He provided 14 critical first half minutes and actually led all scorers with nine points at the break, lighting a fire under his teammates each time he stepped onto the floor. Dekker’s defense still comes with an “under construction” sign in tow and his four turnovers – including an ill-advised behind-the-back bounce pass that rolled through the paint and out of bounds – speak to his youth.Dekker also hit a timely three-pointer with 6 minutes, 19 seconds left to cut into the Wolverines six-point lead, their largest of the game. Sophomore forward Frank Kaminsky and freshman redshirt guard George Marshall were the only other non-starters to see the court, with Marshall sinking one of his two three-point tries.It was those three players, and only those three, who came off the bench against Iowa and the group did not match its modest contributions against Michigan. Dekker only fired off four shots, finishing with five points and collected two rebounds. Marshall had a rough night, missing all four of his shots and going scoreless in 14 minutes of play.With Berggren logging 43 minutes against the Hawkeyes, Kaminsky only saw six minutes of action but did convert a three-ball early in the second half.