ANAHEIM, Calif. — Josh Gasser was in full celebration mode Thursday night, bouncing and running back to Wisconsin’s locker room to bask in a stellar 69-52 NCAA tournament Sweet 16 victory against Baylor in the Honda Center.
And then, the Badgers’ guard saw a man out of the corner of his eye that stopped him in his tracks. The locker room, Gasser decided, could wait.
When Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is nearby, plans tend to change.
"I ran back to him and gave him a little hug," Gasser said. "I don’t know why. I was able to talk to him here in the locker room a little bit. It was a fun moment. Kind of overshadows the win, though, a little bit."
Gasser, of course, was only kidding.
"He didn’t want to overshadow anything," Gasser said. "I think we were kind of staring at him, so he was probably uncomfortable."
Rodgers’ appearance proved quite a hit for Wisconsin’s players, many of whom, like Gasser, have grown up cheering for the Packers’ superstar. Rodgers wore a striped hooded sweatshirt and dark hat and entered the locker room to congratulate the team, join the Badgers in a final huddle and pose for pictures. One such picture, of Rodgers and a surprised-looking Bo Ryan, instantly made the Internet rounds.
Even for the few non-Packers fans in the bunch, players couldn’t help having some fun with Rodgers.
"I saw him in here and said, ‘Stop killing my Bears, dude,’" said Badgers guard Ben Brust, a Hawthorn Woods, Ill., native.
Added fellow Illinois native Duje Dukan: "I’m a Bear fan. But I was still star-struck, to be honest with you."
Dukan steps up: Dukan has played in every game this season for Wisconsin. But playing and contributing in a meaningful way are two vastly different things.
That has created some tough moments for Dukan, whose leash under Ryan has been short. But on Thursday, Dukan played 15 minutes, which was his most since a Jan. 5 game against Iowa — a span of 21 games. In 17 of those games, he played single digits in total minutes.
Dukan made 2 of 3 shots from the field and scored five points with one assist and no turnovers.
"It’s tremendous," he said. "To be out there in such a big game against Baylor in the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16, it’s something a kid always dreams of. To have Coach give me the confidence to be out there for so long and to be able to contribute is obviously a great thing."
Badgers forward Sam Dekker, a starter who plays the same position as Dukan, said he was proud of his teammate for stepping up in a critical situation.
"It’s huge," Badgers forward Sam Dekker said. "I’m happy for Duje. I’m happy for him every time he does good this year. It can’t be fun at times not knowing what he should do. He sometimes plays a little tentative just because of his role. He doesn’t always know. It’s good to see him do well. It was great to see him get some big buckets for us and some good minutes."
Brust handles Heslip: Gasser typically guards the opposing team’s best shooter, but because Baylor presented such a big lineup, it was Brust who wound up defending 3-point marksman Brady Heslip on Thursday night.
Heslip entered the game ranked sixth in the country in 3-point field goal percentage (.468), having made 117 of 250 3s. But he made only one 3-pointer on four attempts and finished with three points. Heslip had been averaging 11.9 points per game.
"When I was chasing him, I was going to make sure that I at least made him drive into the paint and make a two-point jump shot or go into the lane," Brust said. "Just stay disciplined and try to be a pest."
Brust, who holds Wisconsin’s made 3-point field goal record, buried 3 of 5 3s on Thursday and scored 14 points.
"He did a really good job," Gasser said of Brust’s defense on Heslip. "They’re pretty darn similar. Same exact shooting ability. They do the same type of things. I think he was definitely comfortable with him. He likes a challenge."