UW men's basketball: Target practice pays off for Gasser

2011-11-16T05:00:00Z UW men's basketball: Target practice pays off for GasserJIM POLZIN | jpolzin@madison.com | 608-252-6473 | @JimPolzinWSJ madison.com

Josh Gasser's shot hasn't changed much since the end of his freshman season with the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team.

It's what Gasser is doing differently after he releases the ball that he hopes will cause his shooting numbers to improve as a sophomore.

The Badgers' resident shot doctor, assistant coach Gary Close, noticed Gasser watched the ball in the air after he shot it. According to Gasser, he was instructed by Close "to stare at the rim the whole time, just look at your target the entire time."

Gasser spent the offseason working on the change, which he said was more difficult than it sounds.

"It was a hard adjustment, it really was," Gasser said. "You're shooting one way your whole life, and then you kind of change where you're looking. I worked really hard in the summer, and it's really been paying off. My shot feels good and the results are a lot better than last year, even in practice."

The 6-foot-3 guard from Port Washington was 4-for-4 from 3-point range Saturday as the Badgers opened the season with an 85-31 victory over Kennesaw State at the Kohl Center. That was a career-high in 3-pointers for Gasser, who also made both of his attempts from the free throw line to match sophomore guard Ben Brust with a team-high 14 points.

Close, who works with all the players on their shots during the offseason, said Gasser was eager to find ways to become a better shooter. He'll get another chance to show off that new stroke when the Badgers (1-0) host Colgate (1-0) at 7 Wednesday night at the Kohl Center.

"You're always trying to tighten things up a little bit," Close said. "But he deserves the credit. He's obviously worked hard all through the summer and came back more confident."

Gasser had an outstanding season with the Badgers as a true freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 3.9 rebounds while starting 30 of 34 games. He had the second-best freshman debut by a UW player, with 21 points in the season opener against Prairie View A&M, and registered the first triple-double in program history with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against Northwestern.

More importantly, Gasser played good defense and finished with 2.5 assists for every turnover, an outstanding ratio.

If there was an obvious area for improvement, it was Gasser's outside shot. He shot 47.2 overall but was just 19 of 63 (30.2 percent) from 3-point range.

Those numbers from behind the arc are a bit deceiving because Gasser dug himself into an early statistical hole with a slow start. After missing 29 of 34 attempts from 3-point range during a 19-game stretch from mid-November through the end of January, Gasser recovered and finished at 41.4 percent (12 of 29) from behind the arc in Big Ten Conference play. He hit three 3-pointers in a victory over top-ranked Ohio State on Feb. 12 and became the first UW freshman to hit a game-winning buzzer beater with a 3-pointer to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor 11 days later.

Close attributed Gasser's inconsistency to the adjustment from high school to Division I basketball.

"It's not uncommon," Close said. "It's a different level and guys are quicker getting at you and you've got to get it off quicker and they're taller and they're longer. He knew what he had to do to get minutes and he did that well. And like all of our players, he's trying to expand his game, too."

This season, UW opponents will key on UW senior point guard Jordan Taylor, a preseason All-American after averaging 18.1 points as a junior. So, Gasser knows he and the rest of the supporting cast will have to do their part to relieve some of the pressure on Taylor.

"I know I didn't shoot the ball that well last year," Gasser said. "I know that I was capable of making them. They just weren't falling at the beginning of the year, and I didn't take all that many last year.

"Hitting a few early is a good confidence boost, and I'm definitely looking to score a little bit more this year and see what I can do offensively to help this team. I think my opportunities will be there a little bit more this year."

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