gasser

Josh Gasser the difference-maker in No. 8 Wisconsin’s win at Virginia

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In a game in which both No. 8 Wisconsin and Virginia struggled to make shots, redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser who was the most accurate shooter and made the plays that helped the Badgers pick up the 48-38 win in Charlottesville. Gasser (team-high 11 points) attempted just two shots from the field but he made both, the second of which being a three-pointer to give the Badgers a 42-30 lead with 6:24 remaining. And based upon how the two teams shot on the night, that margin proved to be insurmountable.

But Gasser’s biggest contribution came on the defensive end of the floor, where he was the player primarily responsible for the assignment of guarding All-ACC guard Joe Harris. In Virginia’s 60-54 win at the Kohl Center last season Harris accounted for 22 points (8-for-19 FG), five rebounds and five assists.

However on Wednesday Harris’ impact was minimal, as he finished the night with just two points on 1-for-10 shooting. The difference: Gasser, who missed all of last season due to a torn ACL and adds an element this team sorely lacked while he was sidelined.

“Just gutsy, tough,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said of Gasser following the team’s season-opening win over St. John’s, and those words apply to Wednesday’s performance as well. “That’s Josh. (Thirty-five) games last year, where he wasn’t on the floor, we could have used that. That energy, that moxie. He might not do that every night, but he showed why he worked so hard in the offseason.”

As a team Virginia shot 23.4%, and after scoring 12 of their first 14 points in the paint the Cavaliers struggled to convert what few opportunities they could find to the remainder of the night. Both teams defended well, with Virginia limiting the Badgers to 28.8% shooting (5-for-23 3PT), but it was Wisconsin who did the better job of finding the looks needed to both establish and maintain a working margin.

Now 9-0 on the season with wins over Florida, Saint Louis and Virginia on their resume, Wisconsin has the look of a Big Ten contender and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Under Ryan, who picked up his 300th win at the school on Wednesday, Wisconsin has finished in the top four of the Big Ten standings every season. They’ll have better nights offensively, but even if they don’t the defense will remain a constant.

In games like this it’s difficult to find too much to apply towards the future, but it’s safe to say that with Josh Gasser back in the rotation Wisconsin’s got an entirely different look.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.