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Gasser forced game-sealing turnover at Marquette

December 12, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — Growing up in Port Washington, just 35 minutes north of Milwaukee, UW freshman Josh Gasser was a Marquette fan. As a Madison native, Marquette freshman Vander Blue was more familiar with Wisconsin basketball.

By a twist of fate, and Blue’s own decision making, the two squared off Saturday at the Bradley Center. Both in the starting lineup, Blue wore No. 2 in the blue and gold uniform for which Gasser once cheered, while Gasser donned his red No. 21 jersey for the Badgers.

As the final buzzer sounded and Wisconsin headed home with the 69-64 victory, it was clear Gasser was the perfect fit for the Badgers, while Blue may have been wishing he’d brought some big men along with him down I-94.

“Josh is happy to be a Badger. Couldn’t wait to be one. Didn’t have a scholarship for awhile, gets a scholarship,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “Hasn’t said a word — just goes through every drill, and when the drill’s over, ‘Josh did this.’

“Then I look at practice tapes and look at efficiency and things about positioning, he’s not going to wow you with a 360. But he can do a lot of things to put you on the left-hand side.”

The two starters nearly mirrored each other on the stat sheet.

Gasser played 30 minutes, scored four points on 2-of-6 shooting, grabbed two rebounds, dished two assists and grabbed one steal. Blue added seven points for Marquette in 29 minutes, while pulling down three rebounds and collecting one assist and one steal.

While Blue’s stats are slightly more impressive in the box score, the key difference comes on each player’s highlight of the game.

Blue’s first half steal led to an impressive two-handed breakaway dunk on the other end, which cut Wisconsin’s lead to 28-25. Gasser shined in the game’s final moments, however, as he split Dwight Buycks and Darius Johnson-Odom, knocking an attempted dribble hand-off out of bounds off Buycks with 2.6 seconds left.

“I didn’t even look at the official because they were trying to foul — they were up three,” MU head coachBuzz Williams said. “Then when I did look at him he said, ‘Turnover.’ We were looking for a handoff and fade screen, which is what we had done the previous possession.”

On the previous possession, the Badgers were burned by that play, as Jimmy Butler connected from beyond the arc to cut the lead to just three points.

This time, Gasser didn’t even let Marquette get the shot off.

“I jumped it, got a hand on the ball and maybe bumped him a little bit, but nothing big,” Gasser said. “It hit right off his leg and was our ball. If it would’ve been a foul, so be it. It was a big play for us.”

True to form, Gasser’s head coach kept him grounded as the freshman talked to reporters outside the locker room after the game.

“Josh, you’re not that good yet,” Ryan quipped on his way out the door.

Ryan may have had a point — Gasser certainly has plenty of room for improvement — but one thing is clear: Gasser is happy to have switched to the other side of the rivalry.

Wisconsin too strong for Marquette

December 11, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — They’re not sexy, and they aren’t going to wow you. They’ve never been known as one of the more athletic teams in the nation either.

But the Badgers are big, strong and aggressive, and that made the difference as Wisconsin held off Marquette, 69-64, in a hard-fought battle Saturday at the Bradley Center.

Just minutes into the second half, senior forward Jon Leuer picked up two quick fouls, giving him three for the game and sending him to the bench. After Darius Johnson-Odom connected on two free throws, Wisconsin led by a slim 36-34 margin with its leading scorer watching from the sideline.

While the situation did not look promising for UW, not only did the Badgers not struggle without their star, they actually extended the lead to as much as 48-39 over the next six minutes.

“That was big,” Leuer said. “It’s frustrating when you get in foul trouble because you want to be out there helping the team, but … they all stepped up, and that was fun. I was a cheerleader there on the sideline for a little bit. It was fun to see those guys step up and produce for us.”

Playing without Leuer is nothing new for the Badgers, of course. Last year, the 6-foot-10 forward missed a significant portion of the Big Ten schedule due to injury, and Wisconsin stayed afloat without him.

Leuer’s fellow senior forward, Madison native Keaton Nankivil was particularly impressive as Leuer sat on the bench. Nankivil scored Wisconsin’s first six points following Leuer’s third foul, while grabbing a pair of rebounds over the same stretch.

Nankivil saw the opportunity presented by Leuer’s absence, and took full advantage when his team needed it most.

“That’s something we work on all the time is taking advantage of opportunities,” Nankivil said. “I think when Jon went out, they might have focused on putting that pressure on a little bit harder. A couple of the possessions, we were in shot clock situations, they were looking to pressure our guards and maybe run and jump.

“Two of the plays were off hand offs that I decided to keep when they might’ve been looking to pressure our guards and we’ve just got to step on them.”

Squaring off with their in-state rivals Saturday, the Badgers used their superior size and strength and translated it into dominance on the boards, especially on the offensive end.

Wisconsin outrebounded Marquette 32-28 overall, including a 15-10 edge in offensive rebounds. While MU did post an 18-17 advantage on the defensive boards, the home team only grabbed three more rebounds on UW misses than the Badgers did themselves.

As a result, Wisconsin dominated in second-chance points with a 21-9 margin.

“The idea is either you can put it right back after a pump fake or you get it out and we make them work again,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “Plus, we know what it does mentally to the other team.”

Sophomore Mike Bruesewitz was particularly impressive on both the offensive and defensive glass, grabbing four rebounds on each end for a total of eight for the game. Nankivil also pulled down five rebounds (two offensive), while Leuer had six, four of which came on the offensive end.

The best example of the Badgers’ dominance on the boards came during a stretch in the final seven minutes of the game. Following a missed jumper by Marquette, Leuer grabbed the defensive board with 6:34 to go in the second half.

On the other end, Rob Wilson missed a jumper 24 seconds later before grabbing his own offensive rebound. Twenty-three seconds later, Leuer missed a jumper and Ryan Evans cleaned up the offensive glass.

After another 23 seconds ran off the clock, Jimmy Butler was called for two fouls in six seconds. Leuer finally ended the possession with 5:12 remaining, hitting a jumper on an assist from Bruesewitz.

Down the stretch, however, Marquette cut the lead and made things interesting. While the Badgers continued to rebound well, one of their usual strengths — free throw shooting — betrayed them.

With 44 seconds remaining, Wilson missed one of two free throws, leaving it at a seven-point game. Following two points on the other end, Jordan Taylor missed a free throw of his own, giving Marquette the ball back down six with 32 seconds to go.

Taylor would shoot six more free throws over the final 20 seconds, though, hitting five of them to seal the road victory.

“I was disappointed I missed the first one,” Taylor said. “So I just wanted to kind of get up there and knock the next two down really put it away.”

Leading by one point with 1:13 to go at UNLV, the Badgers failed to score again before ultimately losing by a three-point margin. In Orlando against Notre Dame, the game was tied with 2:01 remaining before Wisconsin lost by seven points.

Apparently the third time is the charm for Wisconsin in tight road games, as the Badgers managed to hold off a late rally by their in-state rivals.

“They weren’t frazzled,” Ryan said. “The great advantage is we played in Vegas, in a possession-per-possession game. That’s how we walk away with this win today.”

Not only did the Badgers get a road win, they added what certainly should be a resume win down the line. Come tournament time, a win on the road against a Big East opponent like Marquette should carry plenty of weight.

Count MU head coach Buzz Williams among those impressed by Wisconsin.

“It’s the best team they’ve had since I’ve been here,” Williams said. “I don’t think the world knows it now, but they will.”