MADISON — Thirty-seven games this season for Wisconsin and no changes in the starting lineup.
The Badgers have been model of consistency in their run to the Final Four thanks in large part to their three-man backcourt.
The contributions and leadership of senior Ben Brust, and juniors Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson have yielded benefits time and again for Wisconsin (30-7), which plays Kentucky in an NCAA tournament semifinal on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Brust is the team’s scoring leader, averaging 12.8 points per game. Gasser, who guards the opponent’s top scorers, was named to the Big Ten Conference All-Defensive team. Gasser came back strong following his return to the lineup after surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Jackson’s readiness was uncertain, but he has been solid at point guard and has come up with big baskets in crucial game situations several times this season.
“Those guys have really developed and they played well together,” associate head coach Greg Gard said. “I think our chemistry and how they meshed” was important.
But having the same starting five all year long wasn’t necessarily the plan. The emergence of freshman forward Nigel Hayes during Big Ten play could have led to an adjustment.
“You start the year wondering, how long were we going to play three guards? Was it going to be until Nigel got ready,” Gard said. “It ended up being that it played to our advantage the whole year and it’s been a good thing.”
Jackson has averaged 12.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in four NCAA tournament games. His confidence wavered during the season when he fell into a mini-shooting slump, but Gard said he has been impressed by Jackson’s perseverance, especially in pushing past a rough sophomore year.
“I thought if he got through that and was all in one piece when all was said and done, and pointed in the right direction, that he was really going to reap the benefits of it down the road,” Gard said. “He still sometimes gets off the track a little bit, but at times, that boldness and that bravado helps him make plays.”
He’s also getting to the foul line, having made 17 of 19 attempts in the tournament.
The media attention increases each round of the NCAAs, though Jackson and Gasser both said they haven’t felt the added pressure. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan tries to maintain a strict regimen with repetition in practice, and game preparation has been a critical component to the Badgers’ mindset.
Gasser said he believes whichever team handles the off-court pressure better maintains an edge when the game tips off.
“Once the game starts, all the media, all the nonsense throughout the week, it’s kind of thrown out the window,” Gasser said. “Coach Ryan prepares us the same for any game. It doesn’t matter if it’s now in April or it’s back in November.”