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December 11, 2010As a freshman, Josh Gasser can really only speak to what he's seen of the Wisconsin-Marquette rivalry as a fan. If his response is any indication, he doesn't need to be told today's game is of the utmost importance.
State pride is on the line.
"It's big around Wisconsin," Gasser said. "I've always heard about it. Last year I came to the game and it was pretty intense. It was a lot of fun to see Wisconsin win, especially, and see how big the rivalry really is. I definitely followed it.
"I remember going to an AAU tournament and everybody was gathered around the TV watching it. It's definitely pretty big."
Gasser has already played a game in hostile territory this year when the Badgers traveled to the city of lights and played UNLV. In that game, the true freshman logged 37 minutes of action, shot 2-of-8 from the field and chipped in seven points and seven rebounds.
Though the Badgers went on to drop a hard-fought affair, Gasser developed a sense of what it's like to play on the road. The Bradley Center should be a piece of cake.
Or maybe not.
"The atmosphere is going to be crazy," Gasser, who averages eight points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists on the season, said. "Playing at Marquette is tough to do. They've obviously shown how good they are. They stuck with Duke and they've beaten some other good teams.
"To go in there and beat them would be a huge confidence booster and a big win for us."
Jordan Taylor was a freshman the last time the Badgers played at Marquette and he remembers all too well what happened in a hostile road environment.
"I remember we had a lead late but that kind of seemed to be the theme of that year," Taylor said. "I remember we had a chance to win but it's a tough place to play. It's obviously going to be a raucous environment and there's going to be a lot of their fans and a lot of our fans. It's going to be a lot of fun.
"I remember it being a fun place to play at."
This year, with Taylor now being a junior and one that's emerging as one of the league's premier point guards, along with Jon Leuer, a consistent 20-point scorer and team's leading rebounder, UW has another solid chance to get a win on the road.
While Leuer and Taylor will likely be the key, a lot of what happens on the court will be determined by whatever team is more physical at the point of attack.
"They take a lot of shots, too," Leuer said. "They try to get a lot of possessions in so sometimes there are long rebounds. They're good at tracking those down. So if we box out, and if it is a long rebound, we've got to chase it down."
A year ago, coach Buzz Williams threw whatever he could at Leuer, who wound up scoring 24 points in addition to his 12 rebounds. Though he was up against different defenders throughout the game, Leuer still proved to be the best player on the court.
The lanky senior expects many of the same defensive looks this time around.
"I don't really remember everything," Leuer said. "I think they did a little bit of doubling, but not a lot. Every year is different and every game is different so I guess we'll see."
The series between UW and Marquette has been ultra-competitive in recent years, which includes a 2-2 split over the past four seasons. There are plenty of storylines, whether it's the former teammate angle (Keaton Nankivil, Vander Blue) or the in-state rivalry, Saturday's game really marks one of the better rivalry games that nobody seems to talk about.
"I look forward to the crowd," Taylor, who's averaging 15 points, four rebounds and nearly five assists per game, said. "You know their fans are going to be there during warm-ups and yelling. I remember last time that they were there as soon as we stepped on the floor. They were filing down the aisles.
"It's going to be a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to the atmosphere. Then obviously it's going to be a good game."
-Marquette was dealt a blow when it became evident Joe Fulce would miss the game with a knee injury and Dwight Buycks may be limited with an ankle issue. Those two had combined to average just shy of 15 points per game.
-Though the well-documented Vander Blue storyline exists, it seems as though it's a non-issue for the UW players. There seems to be a lot of respect for the way the Marquette freshmen plays and an excitement to compete against him.
"I got to know him a little bit," Taylor said. "When he was up here he would come in to open gym sometime and play with us. He's a nice kid and like I said, he's got a lot of potential. He's really explosive and as long as he keeps working hard, I'm sure the sky is the limit for him."
-Tip is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and the game can be seen live on ESPN2 with Dave Pasch and Dan Dakich on the call.