Photo: Getty Images
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - Josh Gasser isn’t all the way back from a knee injury that cost him all of last season. But the University of Wisconsin guard is getting closer.
The junior finished with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting as his Red squad beat the White 67-65 in an inter-squad scrimmage at the Kohl Center on Saturday.
“It was just really fun to get out there and play in front of everybody,” Gasser said. “I’ve been looking forward to this moment for 11 months now, so I’m glad it finally came and it was fun.”
Gasser tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee in October of last year. He got limited time during the Badgers five-game exhibition tour in Canada this summer but played 26 during the scrimmage.
“Head and shoulders above where I was mentally,” Gasser said of the difference between August and now. “I feel definitely like I’m up to pace. In Canada I felt like I was a step behind everything, mentally and physically. Now, I feel like I’m keeping up just fine. Physically I’m fine. My legs are under me on my shots. I’m ready to go for the season.”
During the team’s media day earlier this month Gasser said he was still thinking too much and not just reacting. While he admits he’s still thinking about the knee. he didn’t show any hesitation leaving Sam Dekker grasping at air on a crossover dribble down the lane. He also showed no fear in taking the ball all the way to the basket, creating contact and getting the layup to fall while being fouled.
“He wouldn’t have made that one drive there back in August,” UW coach Bo Ryan said.
Gasser still has ground to make up. In the late stages of the second half, he took himself out of the game and appeared to be wincing in pain. Once on the bench, he fidgeted with the knee brace he’ll have to wear the entire season.
“I kind of just took off on my leg. There’s still some aches and pains with everything I do, hard cuts, hard push offs,” Gasser said. “I’m not worried about showing out too much in practice or stuff like this. I just really want to get to the games and then I can kind of turn it up that way. So when I feel a little pain, I’m going to sub myself out, get my legs back under me. That’s what the coaches and trainers want me to do.”
His lack of hesitation is encouraging but Gasser knows it’ll be a while before he’s all the way back mentally.
“Little by little it’s disappearing, yes. I’m still a little bit in my head but that’s natural,” Gasser said. “Doctors and trainers told me (not to) expect it to just go away. It could take up to two years for that to go away. But I’m out here playing. I’m not worried about it necessarily, just getting ready to go.”
Wisconsin will play one exhibition game, next Wednesday against Platteville in Madison, before opening the season against St. Johns in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Nov. 8.
“Much more excited for that than anything else,” Gasser said of matching up with Platteville. “We’ve been banging with each other, playing against each other for how long now. It’s getting sickening. I just want to play against someone else. Get in a real game-like atmosphere. This was definitely helpful but playing against a different opponent, with all the rules and stuff, it’s definitely going to be (more) helpful.”
Red comes out with the win
It was just a scrimmage but as the clock started ticking down in the second half the intensity on both sides picked up.
The Red team led for much of the game and had a double-digit lead in the second-half. But the White team made a comeback led by Dekker, who finished with 18 points, two rebounds and four assists.
The White team got 3-pointers from junior Frank Kaminsky and sophomore Zak Showalter to pull them to within three, and then a layup from Dekker and two free throws by freshman Vitto Brown gave them the lead at 60-59. But senior Ben Brust came down on the next possession and drilled a 3 to take the lead back for the Red squad.
The teams would exchange baskets but with less than 20 seconds left on the clock, Zach Bohannon got Kaminsky off his feet with a pump-fake and drove to the rim for two points and the 67-65 lead.
“That was a pretty good performance by him, getting the ball and making some plays,” Ryan said of Bohannon, who finished with 10 points and four rebounds. “Good shot fakes. He caught Frank (Kaminsky) a little anxious there. He’s got more experience than everybody, too. He’s old but tough.”
The basket by Kaminsky was the final one of the night, as a 3-pointer from Dekker at the buzzer fell short.
“As the game went on (the intensity) definitely picked up,” said Gasser, who suffered a bloody nose in the first half. “We were having some fun out there but when it got down to it you just want to win. We’re all competitors. We’re all friends but when we’re on a court it’s a battle. We were out there jawing a bit but at the same time having fun. I’m just glad my team won.”
Marshall playing with confidence
Sophomore guard George Marshall looked more comfortable on Saturday night than he did at any point last season while scoring 14 points – second most behind Brust’s 16 for the victorious Red team.
“Last year, first time being out there, I was kind of hesitant. Not really doing everything I can do,” Marshall said. “This year, I just plan on being a lot more aggressive, whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for others.”
Marshall was 2-of-3 from beyond the 3-point line on Saturday night, while also dishing out three assists.
“He’s a more confident kid,” Gasser said. “He’s got a whole year under his belt of game-like situations. He spent his whole (true) freshman year just working scout team and running different offenses. Last year was kind of his first time running our stuff. Doing stuff coach Ryan’s way. Now that he’s got a year under his belt, he’s much more confident. He’s making better decisions with the ball.”
Freshmen make their debut
Wisconsin will field a relatively young team this year with only two seniors – Brust and Bohannon. Saturday night was the first time that fans had a chance to see the six freshmen and what did they get? Well, a dancing entrance to begin with. Each member of the team got introduced individually and did a rehearsed dance with a member of the UW Dance Team. Though junior Evan Andersen may have won the night – he danced to “Jump on It” – none of the freshmen shied away.
“Some of them had some pretty good dance moves, I thought,” Ryan said. “Not sure how you guys would rate the dance moves, but I thought they weren’t bashful. I think that’s a great way to introduce these guys to the Kohl Center and a game-like situation. Against Platteville it’ll be something different. And then when Florida comes in it might be a little (more) different.”
Forward Nigel Hayes was perfect (3-for-3) from the field and led all of the freshmen with seven points and added a pair of rebounds. Another forward, Vitto Brown, had four points and four rebounds, while also singing the National Anthem.
In the backcourt, Bronson Koenig finished with five points, three assists and three turnovers. Jordan Hill played 18 minutes and had two points and a steal, while Riley Dearring was just 1-for-5 from the field but did haul in five rebounds.
“They played great,” Gasser said of the freshmen. “They’re coming in, this is kind of their first experience of the Kohl Center and people coming to watch. And they handled it just fine. The beasts down low played well. (The) guards handled themselves just fine. I’m excited for them, not just down the road, but for this year as well.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin