Gasser Lives for March

After missing all of last season, which included Wisconsin's brief run in the NCAA tournament, Josh Gasser is ready to suit up for his third national tournament just a short jumper away from his hometown.

MILWAUKEE - The last time Wisconsin was fortunate enough to be seeded at the Bradley Center to begin the NCAA tournament, Josh Gasser was a 12-year-old growing up in Port Washington, wishing he was among those in the sold-out arena cheering on the Badgers.

"At that point in time, I was just trying to imagine myself playing there," said Gasser, "and I obviously never thought that would ever happen."

Ten years after Wisconsin played a pair of tournament games down I-94, Gasser will be one of the key members involved when second-seed Wisconsin takes on 15th-seed American at 11:40 a.m. Thursday morning.

Gasser lives for March as a basketball player and fan. In high school he admitted to filling out hundreds of NCAA brackets. Of the 16 members on the roster, he has the most NCAA tournament experience with six starts and 177 minutes played (81 more than good friend Ben Brust). He's also as competitive as anyone, as Brust and Gasser's video game battles are well documented.

"It's a competition with everything, which is good," said Brust.

His love for the final full month of the season is one of the reasons why Gasser called last March one of the hardest he's had to endure. He had long since shed the crutches from under his arm, but Gasser continued to maintain bystander status after tearing his ACL prior to the preseason.

He called the weeks after the injury the hardest of the year, but having to watch his teammates lose in the first round upset to Ole Miss was equaling challenging.

"I think the hardest part was watching our guys compete in championship-type moments and not being able to help at all," said Gasser. "Now just knowing I've worked hard to get back, help my team win something is what I work for."

The hard work is evident on a number of fronts for Gasser. Because of the high level of conditioning the training staff put him through during the offseason to get his body ready, he's been able to chew up minutes on the court.

Entering the NCAA tournament, Gasser is second on the team averaging 33.1 minutes per game, including playing at least 35 minutes 15 times and eight of nine during one stretch in conference play.

"If you would have told me 10 months ago that I would be playing 30-some minutes, I wouldn't know if I could do that physically," said Gasser. "Fortunately I have a great athletic trainer and great teammates that have helped me along the way where it all becomes possible."

All those minutes have helped Gasser make an instant impact on defense against other team's top shooters. For instance:

*In the Badgers' win over No. 9 Michigan State, Gasser guarded the Big Ten's leading scorer at the time, Gary Harris (18.2 ppg), holding him to a season-low six points on 3-for-20 shooting.

*Gasser held Michigan's Nik Stauskas – the conference's player of the year - to 11 points on 4-11 shooting, six points below his average.

*He held Iowa's Aaron White to just four points in 30 minutes, 9.2 points below his average. *In the Big Ten tournament, Gasser limited Minnesota's leading scorer Andre Hollins to eight points on 2-for-14 shooting, 6.5 points below his average.

*In UW's win at Virginia, Gasser held preseason All-ACC pick and leading scorer Joe Harris to two points on 1-for-10 shooting in 33 minutes. Harris scored 22 against UW last year while Gasser was redshirting.

There are more examples, but you get the idea of what a pest Gasser can be.

"He's very solid and frustrating," said guard Traevon Jackson. "Here's a guy who doesn't go for too many moves. He forces you into taking tough shots instead of getting your easy shots. For guys like a Gary Harris or a Stauskas, those guys are good players but if you're shooting the whole game and not getting easy looks, that's tough. Josh does a good job of cutting that out and picking up the loose things and helping."

Individual awards don't carry much weight with Gasser, but even had trouble hiding how much being recognized with a spot on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team meant to him.

"That's not one of my goals usually, but it hit me a little different this year, just knowing what I went through," said Gasser. "Knowing that hard work pays off, perseverance, resilience, whatever you want to call, I am definitely proud of myself for that being able to get back on the court and stay healthy."

Gasser also can pack a scoring punch. While he has the lowest scoring average of the five starters, including being held to four points or less six times, Gasser is third in the Big Ten in shooting 44.3 percent from 3-point range (43 of 97), including 49.2 percent (30-for-61) in league play.

During UW's last 11 games, Gasser has made 19 of 37 (.514) 3-point attempts. UW is 9-2 in those games.

"He's pretty good now and he was pretty good in 2012," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "Josh just likes playing. He just likes competing. He likes banging. He likes banging into people, making contact. And not all basketball players enjoy contact. Josh enjoys it. He doesn't mind it when people bang into him. He can give it, and he can take it.

"But he is just as important as his performance has been, it was what he did in the year that he didn't play that I think really opened the eyes of a lot of his teammates as to what a tough, dedicated individual he is because that was not the easiest surgery to come back from. There's knee surgery, and then there's knee surgery, and he had about as tough as you could have, and his rehab was a lot longer.

"To me if I am playing and he is playing with me on a team, I'm playing harder. I just think it has that effect on a team. For me he'll just be one of those guys you'll remember for his grit and toughness."

Ryan joked that Gasser's family might secure so many tickets to UW's games that they might take a charter plane from their hometown Port Washington. The boisterous cheering section will be out in full force for a player who continues to keep pushing to win a championship.

"If you want to be remembered as being a good team, it's always nice to perform in March," said Gasser. "The goal is to win. The more games you can win, the better your team will be. Ultimately we all have our goal and team goal is to win as many games as we can. We're going to take it one game at a time and see how far we can take this thing."

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