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Nigel Hayes working hard to break out of shooting slump

Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes (10) reacts on the floor during the first half of the game in the first round against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Scottrade Center. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

Jim Polzin

The Wisconsin State Journal

Nigel Hayes spent about two hours working on his shot Monday, an off day for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.

By the following day, word had circulated around the Kohl Center that the junior forward had attempted 500 3-pointers during that marathon session.

“That’s incorrect,” Hayes said Tuesday. “I made 500.”

Hayes set the record straight while dripping with sweat from his second shooting workout in less than 24 hours. This one came following practice Tuesday and focused on mid-range jumpers, with Hayes forcing himself to make 20 shots at various spots as media members awaited his arrival for an interview.

There’s only one way to bust out of a slump, Hayes believes, and that’s hard work.

“It’s almost a bad thing to be here. It’s not something to brag about,” Hayes said as the Badgers (22-12) began preparations for a game against Notre Dame (23-11) in an NCAA tournament East region semifinal on Friday night in Philadelphia.

“We’re in the Sweet 16, so maybe I shouldn’t have spent two hours (shooting). But it’s something I think I needed to do. As I’ve told you guys, shooting is mechanics, repetition and confidence and I still think I have the confidence. I just maybe need a little kitchen, house-maintenance work to get everything situated.”

Hayes is shooting 16.7 percent from the field (7 of 42) in three postseason games and has missed all 17 of his attempts from beyond the arc. He’s missed 18 consecutive 3-pointers dating to the second half of the regular-season finale against Purdue.

After going 31 of 110 overall (28.2 percent) and 8 of 43 from 3-point range (18.6 percent) during a nine-game stretch, Hayes’ season percentages in those two categories have fallen to 36.9 and 28.7 percent, respectively.

Before practice Tuesday, Hayes sat down with Badgers assistant coach Howard Moore and went over video clips of all his misses from the past few games.

“I think he’s getting good looks,” Moore said. “If you make ‘em, great. If you don’t, get to the next one. What we tried to look at is where are you getting shots and where can you take advantage of situation.”

Moore encouraged Hayes to try to attack the basket early in games.

“Then the rim gets a little bigger,” Moore said, “once you’ve gotten to the free throw line or gotten a couple easy baskets around the rim.”

Constructive criticism wasn’t the only thing Moore offered during their video session.

“I also wanted to praise him,” Moore said.

“Because as much as people have made a big deal of him missing shots, his defense has been tremendous. I told him, ‘You’re helping us win games with other things.’“

UW coach Greg Gard praised Hayes for his defensive effort in the Badgers’ 66-63 second-round win over Xavier on Sunday night. Hayes helped hold Musketeers sophomore guard Trevon Bluiett to seven points -- 8.3 below his team-leading average -- on 3-for-11 shooting.

Moore also pointed to Hayes’ eight rebounds and three assists -- both team-highs -- as key factors in the upset win over Xavier.

“I think the biggest thing for him is just to relax and play,” Moore said. “But I love the fact that he’s doing other things. That’s critical.”

Hayes said he worked on keeping his elbow in tighter during the two shooting sessions. He was knocking down shots at an impressive clip during the session following practice Tuesday.

“I think it worked. I was shooting the ball extremely well (Monday) night,” Hayes said. “But again, it doesn’t matter unless I do it in a game.”

-- Copyright (c) 2016, The Wisconsin State Journal/Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.