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.