A Solid Silver Medal

Wisconsin was caught off guard when committed guard Vander Blue backed out of his non-binding oral commitment to look at other schools, eventually committing to Marquette. With an open scholarship, the Badgers turned their focus to Port Washington point guard Josh Gasser. So far, it has worked out just fine for UW.

MADISON - Although he has neglected to do so, sophomore point guard Josh Gasser admitted he may someday send Vander Blue a thank you card.

After all, it was the Marquette sophomore's decision that paved way for Gasser to earn a scholarship, fight his way into the rotation and be a key component for Wisconsin the first two seasons he's been on campus.

"He came in with a maturity level that was above the average freshman," associate head coach Greg Gard said. "Mental maturity and toughness is important to handle the daily requirements and grasp the proper criteria of what Coach Ryan expects and how to handle that the right way … and Josh has done that."

Entering his second season, Gasser's impact has been vital to Wisconsin's success, which looks to rebound from a disheartening three-point setback at North Carolina Wednesday by winning its third straight over No.16 Marquette at the Kohl Center 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

When it comes to making a positive first impression, few people at Wisconsin (6-1) have done it better than Gasser. He scored 21 points in his first career game, the second best freshman debut in school history, and he turned it on from there. His 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists versus Northwestern made him the first Big Ten freshman to record an official triple-double and the first since Earvin "Magic" Johnson accomplished it in 1977.

He finished the season with a 2.50 assist-to-turnover ratio (75 assists, 30 turnovers) and highlighted his 5.9 points per game average by banking in a 3-pointer to give UW a one-point win at Michigan in late February.

The start to his sophomore season has been just as hot. Starting all seven games, Gasser ranks third in the NCAA and tops in the Big Ten shooting 65.2 percent from 3-point range (15-for-23). Even though he was held scoreless for the first time he was held since March 11 against Penn State, Gasser is still averaging 8.7 points per game, fourth best on the team.

"It starts with my mindset and having some confidence from your freshman to your sophomore year," said Gasser, who spent most of the offseason working in open gym with senior All-American Jordan Taylor. "I didn't know what to expect last year, but I worked really hard on my game to learn how to score in different ways. That comes from the veterans. … Watching the game and learning from it, I really learn by watching."

After an up-and-down freshman season, including only seven points in 29 minutes vs. UW last year, Blue, like Gasser, has found his niche. The Madison native who de-committed from Wisconsin in May 2009 and committed to Marquette (6-0) the following October, Blue is third on the team with 10.7 points per game and second on the team with 27 assists and first with 15 steals.

Blue will be making his first trip to the Kohl Center since the 2010 state championship when he led Madison Memorial to a runner-up finish in Division 1. He was cheered then. It will be Blue's first UW game since sitting behind the Marquette bench in 2009 after he switched his commitment. He was mercilessly booed by the UW students that night and probably will be greeted the same Saturday.

"He's a great player and he was eventually going to come into his own once he figured it out," said Gasser of Blue. "He's a good player, that's for sure."

Both figure to be key fixtures in the state's most heated basketball rivalry Saturday. The series dates back to 1917 and while Wisconsin owns a 64-53 edge in the previous matchups, each squad has enjoying an extended run of success at various points in the series. Marquette's best streak came between 1969 and 1984 when the team claimed 15-straight wins and 19 of 21 overall. Wisconsin has dominated in recent memory, having won 9 of the last 13 matchups, including the last two.

"We have a tough stretch here and Wisconsin-Marquette is a fun rivalry," Gasser said. "In high school going AAU tournaments, everyone gathers around the TV for the game. I know both sides of it pretty well and I'm definitely excited for the game. It's one that I look forward to the most.

"It was the toughest environment we played in all year I think. Hopefully it's the same, vice versa."

The first helping of the rivalry was everything Gasser expected and more. Playing 30 minutes, Gasser scored four points, handled the point guard like a veteran when Taylor was on the bench with foul trouble by committing only one turnover against Marquette's pressure and knocked a bounce pass off Dwight Buycks out of bounds with 1.8 seconds left to seal the victory, a 69-64 UW win.

It was a memorable experience for Gasser against Marquette, a school he made two unofficial visits to and grew up liking but never received a scholarship offer.

"I've experience the Marquette way and the Wisconsin way," Gasser said. "I know it pretty well."

Even with the growing high school talent in the state of Wisconsin, Gasser is one of only three state natives on the current roster and the only one in the current rotation (redshirt freshman Evan Anderson and junior walk-on J.D. Wise are the other two).

Despite the lack of cheeseheads on the roster, don't expect Gasser to get up in the middle of the locker room with a planned rah-rah speech. After how heated the game was last season, the intensity speaks for itself.

"We got guys here who know (about the rivalry)," Gasser said. "Jordan last year knows about the rivalry. He did that last year for us and how tough and how fun going into Marquette was going to be. It turned out to be just that. Playing in it last year, I got amped up even more. It'll be fun to do it this year in the Kohl Center."

In hindsight, Gasser couldn't say for sure if he would have ended up at Wisconsin if Blue had honored his original commitment. With offers from Arizona State, Creighton, Green Bay, Maryland, Milwaukee, Northwestern and Northern Iowa, Wisconsin offered Gasser a 4-for-5 deal, meaning he would walk-on his true freshman season, likely redshirt and be on scholarship for the remainder of his eligibility. That offer was bumped up when Blue committed.

One thing is for sure, classmates Duje Dukan and Ben Brust probably both would not be his current teammates.

"I think it has worked out pretty good with the way Ben is playing," Gasser said. "We're going to stick with it."

So far, so good.

Badger Nation Top Stories