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(8) UW 70, Golden Eagles 64: Tough
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - The reporter was expecting a longer answer from Bo Ryan. The kind of answer the University of Wisconsin coach normally gives – extended and often times winding. Instead, the man that just coached his 900th career game – a 70-64 win over Marquette -- had just one name and two words to a question asking why his team had been a tougher bunch this year than last.
“Josh Gasser,” Ryan replied.
Asked to expound on the answer Ryan pointed toward Gasser’s trying comeback from a knee injury that cost him the entire 2012-2013 season.
“The guys saw what he went through last year and you can’t tell me that there is a guy in that locker room that didn’t take notice of the hours and the discipline and all the work that Josh put in,” Ryan said. “He never missed anything, he was always around, always encouraging the guys last year through the spring, through the summer…So we have some other guys out there that have a lot of grit, but you have to start somewhere, and that is where it starts.”
Two years ago Marquette (5-4) came into the Kohl Center and beat a Badgers team that was ranked No. 9 in the country. They pushed them around and were the tougher team. In last year’s game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center it was more of the same. Every loose ball seemed to end up in the hands of a guy wearing the blue and gold as Marquette took that game 60-54.
Sam Dekker said prior to Saturday’s game that the Badgers were “very soft” in the loss in Milwaukee. Frank Kaminsky echoed that. After Wisconsin snapped a two-game losing streak to their I-94 rivals at a raucous Kohl Center – and moved to 10-0 for just the second time in school history -- it was Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams that had to look in the mirror and realize that his squad was not the tougher team on Saturday.
“The last two years, what was the difference?,” Williams asked before delivering the answer. “You could say it was our will. You could say today it was there will. It wasn’t tactical.”
And the numbers point that out. In a game that was either tied or led by Wisconsin for all but one possession, Marquette was able to win the stat sheet. They shot better (43.1 percent to 40.0 percent), grabbed more rebounds (34 to 32) and had more points in the paint (34 to 24). But when a ball was up for grabs – whether on a rebound or a deflection – it seemed Wisconsin came up with it.
“They are huge,” Ryan said. “Several of those we turned into points. And you know what that does to you as a player. What it does to the crowd, it is nice being at home. We haven’t been here in a while. So I give them a lot of credit for making some plays that weren’t there, and they made them.”
Several stand out.
Early in the second half, guard Ben Brust stole a pass but clanged his fast-break dunk attempt. Traevon Jackson gathered the rebound, passed it to Dekker who found Kaminsky for an alley-oop and a 39-31 lead with 15:56 left in the game.
“That could have turned out bad,” Jackson said of Brust’s missed dunk. “But those are the types of plays we’ve been making…Loose balls are huge. We really stressed that this week.”
Minutes later, and with an eight-point lead, Kaminsky missed a layup. He grabbed the rebound but his pass out to Gasser got tipped. With several players running for the ball, Gasser was able to grab it, dribble near the baseline and find a wide-open Dekker, who drilled a 3-pointer.
“50-50 balls are what we pride ourselves on, what we always want to get,” Gasser said. “Loose balls, even rebounds we consider those 50-50 balls so we want to come up with most of those. Just those plays can really turn the tide of a game. And it was good that we got a few of those and limited theirs. I think that was a big (part of) the game.”
When Marquette made their run – a 3-pointer by Jamil Wilson made it 57-54 – the Badgers toughness answered in the form of a long-range bomb from Kaminsky to give Wisconsin a six-point lead with 1:30 left. They'd go 10 of 11 from the foul line, including 6 of 6 for Gasser, to put salt the game away.
But it was plays like those made by Jackson, Gasser and Kaminsky that have become the staple of this Badgers squad through the non-conference portion of their schedule. Teams that pushed them around and were stronger down the stretch a year ago – namely Virginia and Marquette – were unable to have their way this year.
So yes, Dekker recording his second career double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds were big. And yes, Jackson was able to put together a seven assist, no turnover game after struggling in last year’s loss. And yes, they overcame foul trouble that saw Evan Anderson and Zach Bohannon get minutes in the first half. But the overall theme this week was tough, physical basketball. And that starts with Gasser.
“Yeah it’s very satisfying,” Gasser said of the revenge wins this week over the Cavaliers and Golden Eagles. “It’s exactly what we needed to do. It’s something that kind of lagged during the first couple of games, but that’s understandable in some respects. Last year I just think we got beaten on the boards too much. To see it even here was nice. We gave up a couple too many offensive rebounds at the end there that we’d love to clean up, but overall this week was great for us. We won some grind out games which is what we really need to do come Big Ten season.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin