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After losing shooting touch, Maryland’s Aaron Wiggins rediscovers it in a losing cause at Wisconsin

The simple flick of his right wrist and the rest of the near perfect mechanics Aaron Wiggins usually demonstrates came back on his second 3-point attempt a little more than 10 minutes into Tuesday night’s game at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center, the ball finding its way to the bottom of the net. After going scoreless four nights earlier at Iowa, Wiggins had found his way back into the points column.

What followed was far from perfect — with Wiggins committing three turnovers, including a late charging foul in a 56–54 loss to the Badgers — but what he showed was enough to think that Mark Turgeon’s decision to bring the 6-foot-6 sophomore wing off the bench for the first time all season was one of the best moves the Maryland coach had made the past two games.

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“It was good to see Wiggs make a few [shots], be aggressive, I’m happy for him,” Turgeon said after the game, perhaps the most positive statement to come out of an otherwise somber news conference.

Asked if he thought Wiggins looked more relaxed for the first time in awhile, Turgeon said, “It sure looked that way, didn’t it? I think he just saw the ball going down, and we’ve all been telling him he needs to be more aggressive and look for [his shots] and he did.”

Wiggins was pulled quickly and played only 17 minutes in a 67-49 loss at Iowa last Friday, finishing the night failing to score for the first time in his college career while missing all four shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, to go along with three turnovers and zero rebounds.

On Tuesday, he played 34 minutes — only senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and sophomore forward Jalen Smith played more — and finished with 13 points and five rebounds. He made half of his eight shot attempts, including three of six on 3-pointers.

“You’ve got to move on, you can’t sit back and think about a bad game, or think about a loss,” Wiggins said after practice Friday. “You’ve got to move on, be prepared for the next game and have confidence and trust in your teammates that they’re going to do what they can to help make the team play better. If you sit back on one game and you’re down about something, that only holds the team back. You’ve got to be positive.”

Though the ending in Madison was not what Turgeon, Wiggins and Maryland (13-4, 3-3) as a team wanted — a second straight road defeat after dropping to 17th in the Associated Press poll ahead of Saturday‘s home game against Purdue (10-7, 3-3) — the performance by Wiggins gave the coach, the player and and the Terps something to build upon.

“It’s a step in the right direction for him,” Turgeon said.

It was reminiscent of what Wiggins did as a freshman — playing fearlessly and effectively in a road loss.

“There were games before where I had decent games and we still lose,” said Wiggins, who set his career high of 15 in road losses to Michigan and Michigan State last season and equaled it this season in three wins, including a 21-point victory over Marquette in the Orlando Invitational championship game. “Bad game, good game, a loss is a loss.”

Wiggins, who is expected to come off the bench again Saturday, said that he is not approaching the role any differently.

“Mentally, I just want to do what I can do for my team,” Wiggins said. "Coming off the bench or starting, I just want to make the best play for my team. “I’ve been getting a lot of shots up before the game, I was comfortable with my shot and ready to go.”

Many think Wiggins started feeling the pressure of having to live up to a lot of preseason hype, stories about how hard he had worked over the summer and how his name had suddenly started to appear on several mock NBA drafts for next June. It looked that way early on, but he had seemed to settle down during an eight-game stretch when he averaged 12.4 points and a shade over eight rebounds.

“It’s a lot harder for these kids, when you’re a freshman, a lot of times you don’t know any better,” Turgeon said after Monday’s practice, a day before the Wisconsin game. “Then all of a sudden you know what’s going on. Yeah, I think expectations on him [affected him], expectations on the team. Right or wrong, we had ‘em.”

While it was only the previous two games where Wiggins barely scored — he also failed to score in the first half of the win over then-No. 11 Ohio State before scoring seven points in the second half, two of them on an important putback dunk that has become part of his repertoire — his struggles have been around since the start of the season.

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Most of it has centered around his 3-point shot. Though Wiggins has improved in other areas offensively and defensively, his inability to hit 3s consistently has been going on since he missed all six he tried in the season opener against Holy Cross. Wiggins, who after a slow start led Maryland in 3-point shooting last season at 41.3% (62 of 150), had come into Tuesday’s game shooting just 31.3% for the season.

Asked after Monday’s practice if he thought that Wiggins was in a correctable slump or had evolved into a player not known for long-range shooting, Turgeon said, “Is it a concern? Yeah, it’s been a concern of mine all year. He’s such a good player and he’s such a good shooter. I said after we lost to Seton Hall, it’s my job to give guys confidence. I’m trying with him.

"He’s just got to believe in himself out there. I know we believe in him. The last couple of games it’s affected the rest of his game. It didn’t affect the rest of his game early. He was taking care of the ball. He was rebounding. He was defending. The last couple of games it’s taken an effect on the other end. We talked about it with the group, ‘We need to get Wiggs going. … Keep shooting.’ It’s a long season, hopefully his best days are ahead of him.”

Wiggins admits that he’s thought at times about his struggles given how much work — including many days when he had three or four sessions on various aspects of his game — he put in over the spring and summer.

“Of course that hits the back of your head, that you’re not having the season you expected in terms of shooting, of course coming off of 41% year prior, but you can’t let that one thing affect the rest of your game,” he said Friday. “I know physically I’ve prepared myself to rebound better, to fight defensively to guard ball screens and all those little things. I’ve made that if even if my shot isn’t falling, I’m doing everything else the best I can.”

His teammates are confident in Wiggins and know how important he is to a team that has averaged just 52.5 points in its last two games.

“Huge," Cowan said Tuesday. "He came in and played big minutes, not only on offense but on defense as well. We need that from him, slowly getting his confidence back. Keep needing that from him for the rest of the year.”

PURDUE@NO. 17 MARYLAND

Saturday, 2 p.m.

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TV: ESPN2 Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

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