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Badger Rewind: Led by Gasser's grit, UW grinds out physical win


Mike Lucas
UWBadgers.com Insider
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Varsity Magazine

Feb. 10, 2014


MADISON, Wis. -- Before leaving the Kohl Center floor following Sunday's spirited 60-58 victory over Michigan State, Josh Gasser ran over to CBS college basketball analyst Greg Anthony and shook his hand.

If it takes one to know one -- a defensive specialist -- it was a most fitting union after Gasser had just shut down Gary Harris, the Big Ten's leader scorer, by holding him to a season-low six points.

Anthony was known for his defense in helping lead UNLV to the 1990 national championship. He also had the reputation of being a defensive stopper during his 12 seasons in the NBA.

During Saturday's practice, Gasser got to meet Anthony, who is in his second season as an analyst for the network -- this year as the lead analyst alongside of Jim Nantz -- for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

"I love college basketball," said Gasser, "and you watch guys like him (Anthony) on TV and you kind of idolize them, so anytime I get to meet one of them I'm always up for it."

There was a hint of March in the February air with all the yellow CBS Sports banners hanging in the Kohl Center, the intensity and physicality of every tug-of-war possession, and the clutch shot-making in the final seconds of the only regular-season meeting between the Spartans and the Badgers.

"Knowing we had Michigan State coming in here and we had lost three straight at home, we wanted it more," said Gasser, who had 11 points and six rebounds. "We just wanted it really, really bad. It was almost do-or-die. They're playing for a Big Ten title and we needed a win.

"This is the way it should be -- grind it out for 40 minutes. It should go down to the last possession and the last seconds the way it did. Both teams played really hard. It was really physical. I don't think any of us are feeling 100 percent or close to it right now."

Highlights: Wisconsin 60, Michigan State 58

The Spartans played without two starters, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson. Meanwhile, Gasser looked to be temporarily dazed in the first half after getting flattened by Michigan State's 6-foot-10, 245-pound Adreian Payne. In attempting to cushion his fall, Gasser appeared to jam his left shoulder.

"He (Payne) is a big dude and that definitely hurt a little bit -- but, one minute later, I was fine," Gasser said. "Those big guys, Payne and (Matt) Costello, are so strong and physical, you'd better bring it. You'd better put on your shoulder pads if you want to stick with them."

Gasser was definitely in his rough-and-tumble element, particularly when he was checking Harris, who was averaging 18 points and has scored 20 or more on eight different occasions. Harris, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, made only 3 of 20 shots while going 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

"I tried not to give him anything easy and I tried not to let him get started," said Gasser, who always draws the opponent's top scorer. "After he got those two fast break dunks at the start of the second half, I was thinking, `Uh oh, he might have something going here.'

(Harris scored on run-outs after a steal and after a long rebound.)

"But when he really gets going is when he's hitting those 3s. I wanted to chase him as hard as I could through all those screens -- they set a lot for him -- and force him to my help, and my guys did a good job of really helping me out. I thought we really corralled him well as a team."

But you can't completely silence an elite player like Harris, who made a contested jump shot with his foot on the 3-point line with 23 seconds remaining to pull the Spartans within 58-55. "That might have been the toughest shot that he took. I tried to contest it the best I could," Gasser said.

On Wisconsin's previous offensive possession, Traevon Jackson had set up Frank Kaminsky for a 3-pointer from the right wing that gave the Badgers a five-point lead. Kaminsky had made only 2 of his last 13 from that range, but he didn't hesitate to launch the shot when Costello was late recovering.

“This is the way it should be -- grind it out for 40 minutes,”
Gasser said.
“It should go down to the last possession and the last seconds the way it did.”

"They were hedging out on Trae a little bit and I kind of popped out for the corner," Kaminsky said. "It was a shot clock play and I knocked it down. Trae was turning the corner and trying to get into the lane and he (Costello) had to stay a little longer than he wanted to."

On an earlier possession, Jackson had misfired on a similar pass to Nigel Hayes on the wing. "That was my fault," said Jackson. "The way they play the ball screens they were trying to get me to throw it back. I knew Frank was going to be open and I was proud of him for taking that shot."

During Friday's practice, Jackson had yelled at Kaminsky to take a comparable open look after he turned it down and passed the ball on a pick-and-pop action. Obviously, the message had sunk in. Kaminsky finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocked shots against the Spartans.

"Frank can affect the game in other areas other than just scoring," said UW associate head coach Greg Gard. "He can rebound, defend, pass and he has the ability to make plays from the perimeter with his size and vision. That's where he needs to continue to mature in terms of his game."

Neither Kaminsky nor Hayes could play through a screen that freed up Payne for an open shot from the top of the key that knotted the game. Payne knocked down the triple -- he's shooting 43 percent from beyond the 3-point arc -- to lift the Spartans into a 58-58 tie with eight seconds left.

"Payne is a monster," Kaminsky said of the Michigan State senior who was playing in only his second game since returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for nearly a month. "He really showed all of his offensive skills from the low post to shooting the 3s. I think he's going to be a great pro."

The Badgers, though, still had their trump card: Jackson. Last season, he had game-winning jumpers against Minnesota and Penn State and a game-tying shot to force overtime against Iowa. "I want the ball in his hands in that situation," Gasser said. "I have all the trust in the world in him."

In Wisconsin's last home game, Jackson didn't get the last shot against Ohio State. The Badgers did a poor job of spacing the floor and the Buckeyes were able to double Jackson and take away his left hand, which forced him to give up the ball in what turned out to be a 59-58 loss.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo anticipated that Jackson would be the shooter and assigned his best defender, Harris, to cover him. Throughout the game, Jackson had been matched against his good friend Travis Trice, a fellow Ohio native, who had worked out with Jackson over the summer.

"I didn't look at it that way," Jackson said of going one-on-one with Harris. "I looked at it as `We have to get a shot up' and I knew if I went to the hole I probably would have gotten it swatted. I knew I could get the pull-up off (on Harris) and I'm blessed to have my teammates trust me in that situation."

There were still 2.1 seconds left and Trice got off an uncontested half-court shot that bounced off the rim while UW coach Bo Ryan morphed into Barney the Dinosaur ("My face turned purple saying `Get back"') and Gasser almost broke down ("If that shot went in, I was about ready to cry.").

Instead, the Badgers danced off the floor with a critical win that snapped a five-game losing streak to the Spartans. "It did feel a little bit different (in the Kohl Center)," observed Hayes, a freshman. "There was a lot more energy in the building and a lot more screaming. It was a great environment.

"I guess it's getting closer to feeling like March Madness."

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