GENARO C. ARMAS
AP Sports Writer
Get to the spot in the lane ahead of the dribbler. Set the feet. Absorb the blow.
Josh Gasser is Wisconsin's take-a-charge player in the backcourt. The tough junior gets just as much pleasure from drawing charging fouls or shutting down an opponent's best scorer that he would nailing a game-winning bucket.
The fourth-ranked Badgers (10-0) are off to their best start in two decades thanks in part to Gasser, who's back after missing a year with a left knee injury.
"He makes plays for his size and makes plays in areas that a lot of people don't," coach Bo Ryan said about the 6-foot-3 Gasser.
Wisconsin can match its best start since 1993-94 by beating intrastate rival Milwaukee on Wednesday night. The only other time the team was ranked in the top five was during a 12-week run in the 2006-7 season, including one week at the top spot.
Defense remains a focus, but the Badgers have offensive versatility this year too. Frank Kaminsky (14.6 points) is the big man who can shoot the 3, while forward Sam Dekker (14.4 points) can frustrate foes with his inside-out game. Sharpshooter Ben Brust (11.4 points) leads the team from long range, while point man Traevon Jackson (11.2 points) can hit clutch shots.
Gasser (10.4 points) completes the three-guard rotation, but scoring might be his least-important responsibility.
He typically draws the toughest defensive assignment, like when he stymied Virginia's Joe Harris to two points on 1 of 10 shooting in a 48-38 win last week.
"It's a good role to have, to be honest, as a guy who has to defend one of the other team's better scorers," Gasser said this week. "I kind of want to make life a little more difficult for them."
In Saturday's 70-64 win over Marquette, Gasser expertly drew another charge. He tracked down a loose ball to save a possession, dribbled into the lane to draw defenders before side-arming a pass to an open Dekker in the corner for a 3.
Every good team usually has someone like Gasser, a "glue guy" who relishes doing the little things and doesn't mind letting other guys get the headlines.
But Gasser does his job so well, it's hard not to notice, either.
"We couldn't ask for anything else from him," Ryan said. "He's just a tough, young man who on takes every assignment and gives it his best."
Wisconsin advanced to the Big Ten tournament championship last year before losing to Ohio State, then lost its first game in the NCAA tournament as a No. 5 seed to 12th-seeded Mississippi.
Imagine what the Badgers could have done with Gasser, who could only watch after suffering a torn ACL during training camp.
It's been a long, tough comeback since then. Gasser seemingly gets questioned about how he's feeling almost every time he speaks with reporters. He's getting used to playing with a brace on that knee.
"Each week as we go, as we get deeper into the season here, I'm definitely thinking about it a lot less," Gasser said. "It is part of me now. It feels very natural with it on."
A decorated Wisconsin prep player, Gasser averaged 23.9 points as a senior and holds career records for scoring, rebounding and free-throw percentage at his high school in Port Washington. But Gasser said he quickly knew what his limitations might be at the collegiate level, where teams are full of players who hold high school records.
"It's such a different game," Gasser said. "I came in with the mindset to try to do anything I can do to help us win."
Note: Asked about his team's ascension to No. 4 in the AP poll, Ryan said the Badgers' attention was focused on preparing for Milwaukee. "You have to deal with that, but everybody's going to come at us the same way. Everybody's going to want to, even more so, try to get a piece of the Badgers," Ryan said.
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