Traevon Jackson clutch at line for Wisconsin Badgers

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ANAHEIM, Calif.--Traevon Jackson’s confidence does not wane.

Missed shot? Turnover?

No problem. Wisconsin’s junior point guard still wants the ball late, with the game on the line.

And that confidence extends to the free-throw line.

“I’d be on the free-throw line if I could every single day,” he said, “every single time.”

Jackson’s free-throw shooting was pivotal in helping No. 2-seeded UW (27-8) defeat Oregon in the third round of the NCAA tournament and set up a Sweet 16 battle with No. 6-seeded Baylor (26-11) at 6:47 p.m. Thursday at the Honda Center.

Jackson, who hit 8 of 10 free-throw attempts in the final 3 minutes 5 seconds against the Ducks, is third among the UW starters in free-throw shooting at 76.7 percent.

Ben Brust leads the way at 90.1 percent, followed by Josh Gasser (86.7), Jackson, Frank Kaminsky at 76.6 and Sam Dekker at 67.7.

“That’s the beauty of our team,” Jackson said. “We work on free throws so much I feel just as confident when I’m at the line as I do when Ben, Frank, Sam and Josh are at the line.”

Like most players who thrive on pressure, Jackson’s free-throw shooting improves late in the game.

Including the Oregon game on Saturday, Jackson this season has had the opportunity make crucial free throws in the final four minutes of 10 games decided by single digits.

He has made 36 of 44 attempts under those circumstances, 81.8 percent, and UW is 9-1 in those games.

Take away those attempts and his success rate is 74.7 percent (84 of 115).

“Trae loves the tough spot,” Dekker said. “He hits big shots and big free throws night in and night out.

“He may get a lot of grief but he doesn’t hear it. He doesn’t think about it. He just goes out and does what he does.

“Whenever he is at the free-throw line late in the game I don’t feel like I have to go for the rebound because I think they’re going in every time.”

Jackson’s free-throw shooting against Oregon was critical, because when he started his run with 3:05 left, UW had hit only 6 of 13 attempts. Kaminsky hit just 2 of 7 attempts.

“Frank got into a little bit of a rut,” Jackson said. “He is too good of a shooter to miss some of those. But it just happens. You play so many games and sometimes we miss.”

With Jackson hitting 8 of 10 and Dekker making both his attempts late, UW finished 16 of 25 from the line against the Ducks.

“Any time you’re in a game that is this close, with so many different change of possessions at the end and they’re fouling,” UW assistant coach Lamont Paris said, “if you don’t make free throws it is very difficult to win.

“Trae did a really good job of making clutch free throws. They’re all clutch. The ones you miss in the first 10 minutes are just as important as those at the end.

“That’s what you would think theoretically but as you well know, those ones at the end of the game, you’ve got to step up and make those.”

Jackson hit 4 of 4 attempts in the final 17 seconds of a 71-66 victory at Penn State, hit both attempts with 13 seconds left to help secure a five-point victory at Iowa, hit 4 of 4 attempts in the final 51 seconds of a six-point victory over Marquette and hit 6 of 8 attempts in the final 3:07 of a six-point victory over Saint Louis.

Jackson’s only significant miss came with 15 seconds left in a one-point loss to Ohio State. Jackson had a chance to forge a 59-59 tie but made only 1 of 2 attempts.

“I didn’t even have to worry one bit,” Brust said of Jackson’s performance late against Oregon. “When Trae Jackson is at the line in crunch time, he lives for that stuff.”

Jackson’s ability to hit pressure free throws is critical in part because he is No. 2 on UW in attempts (159). Only freshman Nigel Hayes with 162 attempts has more.

“Remember, I don’t dwell too much on the free throws, whether somebody’s hitting them or somebody’s not hitting them,” UW coach Bo Ryan said when asked why some players increase their accuracy rate when the game is on the line. “And we’ve had guys not hit them over the years.

“So it’s that person, their mind. They’re up there.

“It’s their thing. What are you going to do?”

In Jackson’s case, step to the line with confidence and make them.

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