Nigel Hayes is not afraid to speak up — whether it be on issues within the team or off the court. However, talk is cheap when you are losing games and that is exactly what has happened over the last week.
It is even cheaper when the person doing the talking isn’t backing it up with action on the court. Therein lies the problem with Nigel Hayes’ bluster as of late.
After Sunday’s home loss to Northwestern, Hayes was vocal about that moment being the wake up call this team needed. Except it appears he forgot to wake himself up.
“Experience has been a great teacher,” Hayes said earlier this week. “Like the rat in the box, when you push it, food comes and that teaches you a lot. But if you put your hand on a hot stove, (you get the) same reaction except for some reason you really don’t touch the stove anymore. So apparently we have to lose in order to learn the things that we’ve already been (talking about).”
If that were the case, then Hayes’ words continued to fall on deaf ears. That in and of itself is a major problem if true. After all, Hayes is considered the leader of this team, and if he can’t get himself or others motivated there’s a real problem for this team…and one that may not be fixed overnight.
Hayes even singled out redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl ahead of Thursday’s game against Michigan. The senior called Pritzl the “best shooter in the country” and went on a rant about how he needed to realize it himself.
Nigel Hayes ➡️ Brevin Pritzl
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) February 16, 2017
With senior point guard Bronson Koenig out of this contest, Hayes was right in noting that someone was going to need to step up beyond the arc. However, Pritzl never even got the chance to see the floor.
Instead he rode the bench alongside Koenig, as head coach Greg Gard continued to try to find some combination of players that could get UW out of its offensive funk. That included more minutes that in recent games for the likes of Jordan Hill and Alex Illikainen.
Neither of them produced, with the duo combining for three points (all from Hill) on 1-of-5 shooting in this game. Only Khalil Iverson’s 10-point night saved the bench from being a complete disaster for UW on the night.
Certainly bench production, or a lack thereof is an issue. It has been one all season long.
But, all of that pales in comparison to the man who has talked the talk all week long. Hayes was simply bad on Thursday night. For the man who said this team needed a wake up call, he apparently didn’t take is own advice.
All Hayes managed were six points on 3-of-7 shooting and five rebounds. While the defensive effort was nice, this should’ve been a game prime for Hayes to take over.
Instead, Hayes was doing anything but taking the game over.
Maybe you could chalk some of it to riding the hot hand that was Ethan Happ, but Happ alone wasn’t going to bring Wisconsin victory.
Instead, Happ seemed to be the only player to take what Hayes had to say publicly to heart. Happ, who had easily his worst game of the season in the loss to the Wildcats, poured in 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He also grabbed six boards and had six assists in the 64-58 loss to Michigan.
That’s stepping up in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, no one else came along for the ride. Ironically, Hayes was the only starter outside of Happ to hit more than two field goals in the loss against Michigan.
Even that wasn’t good news as it was just three made buckets on just seven attempts. That isn’t good enough from the supposed best player Wisconsin has.
Instead of taking his own advice and showing up when UW needed him the most, Hayes seemingly has concentrated on leading with his words and not his actions on the court.
What has resulted is a two-game losing streak, something that hasn’t happened since last season. The two-game slump also has put the Badgers in a three-way tie at the top of the Big Ten standings.
What was once a two-game lead is gone just like that. Things don’t get any easier for the Badgers, as they face Maryland on Sunday in the hopes of regaining a hold on the top spot in the B1G.
Things don’t get much easier for Hayes and Co. down the stretch either. Following the contest with Maryland there are dates with dangerous teams like Michigan State, Iowa and Minnesota to end the year.
If ever there was a time for Hayes’ actions to meet his words, now would be that time. We’ll see if it actually happens.