Gasser, Badgers grind out victory at Virginia
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.--Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser was exhausted but exhilarated.
The exhaustion came from chasing Virginia sharpshooter Joe Harris, a senior guard who never stops moving, all over the court for 35 minutes Wednesday night.
The exhilaration came from seeing Harris and his Virginia teammates fashion a forgettable offensive performance in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
UW, which put together its worst offensive performance of the young season, remained unbeaten by relying on defense, rebounding and tenacity in front of a hostile crowd of 11,142.
“I’m glad we won like this,” Gasser said after No. 8 UW ground out a 48-38 victory. “It’s about time we played that way defensively. We’ve been working it pretty hard the last few weeks and we needed it.
“It is sometimes good to get a grind-out win like that. Because come Big Ten season, come March, a lot of games are going to be like that.”
UW (9-0) had won in a variety of ways, mostly with outstanding shooting (48.0 percent) and scoring (76.8 points per game).
Wednesday was an ugly, 40-minute grinder as the Badgers hit season-low marks for points and shooting (28.8%) but still gave coach Bo Ryan his 300th victory at UW (300-113).
When Virginia (7-2) handed UW a 60-54 defeat last season in Madison, Gasser was recovering from a season-ending knee injury and watched Harris finish the Badgers with 22 points, five rebounds and five assists.
On Wednesday, Harris finished with two points. He missed all four 3-point attempts and hit 1 of 10 shots overall. He entered the night shooting 55.2 percent from 3-point range (16 of 29) and 60.3 percent overall (35 of 58).
“He was dead out there,” UW junior forward Frank Kaminsky said of Gasser. “He is doing well. From how bad his injury was to where he is now is unbelievable.”
Gasser added a game-high 11 points—he was the only player on either team in double figures—and five rebounds.
Kaminsky had nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds. He grabbed six offensive rebounds to help UW win the rebounding battle, 40-34, and score 13 second-chance points.
“Thirteen out of that 48?” Ryan said when asked about the second-chance points. “That is a pretty high percentage. They were huge.”
Particularly against a team that had been out-rebounding its foes by an average of 39-26 per game.
“I thought we lost our composure a little bit,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, whose team had been shooting 48.9 percent and averaging 69.6 points. “We had some opportunities to finish but we didn’t.
“I think Wisconsin did to us, in a way, what we did to them last year. Last year we outlasted them a little bit. When it mattered, they were sounder, more poised, and made plays.”
With Virginia going without a field goal for a stretch of 11 minutes 10 seconds, spanning from the end of the first half into the second half, UW led by as many as 14 points.
After the Cavaliers cut the deficit to 37-30, Ben Brust and Gasser made two huge plays to push the lead to 12.
First Brust, who contributed eight points and eight rebounds, drove through the defense for a layup with 7 minutes left.
Then, after Sam Dekker (seven points, five rebounds) rebounded a Virginia miss, Gasser buried a 3-pointer with 6:21 left for a 42-30 lead.
Gasser had one more huge play to make after the Cavaliers pulled within 43-36.
Harris stole the ball and tried to drive the length of the court. Gasser was waiting, drew a charge with 2:50 left and then hit 1 of 2 free throws 20 seconds later to push the lead back to 44-36.
“We have been shooting it fairly well but you can’t rely on that all the time,” Ryan said. “The defense is what got it done for us tonight.”
That defensive effort was a collective effort but the catalyst was Gasser.
“I think Josh did a tremendous job on Harris,” Brust said. “To hold him to...two points? That’s unbelievable from Josh. Tough kid.”