Point guard Jordan Taylor was taking his first breather, so the Marquette men’s basketball team ratcheted up its pressure of the University of Wisconsin about five minutes into the game Saturday at the Bradley Center.
Freshman guard Josh Gasser responded by throwing a long pass that was quickly intercepted by the Golden Eagles’ Jimmy Butler and converted into a score by Dwight Buycks.
What happened next explains why Gasser has bucked the odds and become such a valuable player for the Badgers (8-2). First, the 6-foot-3 former Port Washington standout owned up to his mistake.
“He knew it as soon as he let it go. He knew it was the wrong pass to make. He said so when he came to bench,” associate head coach Greg Gard said.
Gasser made up for his freshman mistake by playing the rest of the way with the focus, strength and smarts of a wily veteran.
Despite Marquette’s constant pressure, Gasser didn’t make another turnover and went on to help the Badgers earn a 69-64 victory with a great defensive play in the closing seconds of the game.
That is a big reason why Gasser ranks third on the team — behind only leaders Jon Leuer and Taylor — in average minutes per game (27.0). He also ranks third in scoring (7.5) and rebounding (4.2) heading into tonight’s game with UW-Green Bay (4-6) at the Kohl Center.
Much has been made of the fact that Gasser has joined former UW greats Devin Harris and Alando Tucker as the only freshmen to start for coach Bo Ryan at UW. What they share in common is “the mental toughness and the will to be successful and do whatever it takes to get the job done,” Gard said.
Harris and Tucker showed it right away on offense. Gasser has shown it right away on defense and will be asked to show it again against UWGB’s talented senior guards, Rahmon Fletcher and Bryquis Periner.
He was never better than when Marquette was setting up for a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Gasser forced a turnover when he blew up a dribble handoff between Buycks and Darius Johnson-Odom.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Gasser said modestly.
Taylor told reporters after the game that Gasser was the biggest reason why Johnson-Odom scored just eight points and only made one of nine shot attempts.
“Josh hounded him all night,” said Taylor.
Gasser said he tried to limit Johnson-Odom’s touches and force him to where senior forwards Leuer and Keaton Nankivil could help stop him.
Although he came to UW already a good defender, Gasser has gotten better by quickly adapting to Ryan’s defensive principles, especially regarding help. “Shutting down driving lanes is a big one,” Gasser said. “You want to force him toward your help.”
Gard said that showcased one of Gasser’s greatest strengths. “He’s good at things that have nothing to do with jumping or running. He’s very good with the top 12 inches of his body. He’s very smart,” Gard said. “That’s what sets him apart, just that ability to think and react on the fly and make good decisions.”
Not everybody is happy with Gasser. He has some friends who go to school at Marquette and were cheering against him Saturday.
“It was nice to get a win there and show them what Wisconsin basketball was all about,” Gasser said with a chuckle.