Sunday, November 27, 2011
Brust's star turn reveals UW's weapons
By Eamonn Brennan
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- A few minutes after Wisconsin sealed its 73-56 win over BYU in the Chicago Invitational Challenge on Saturday, guard Jordan Taylor emerged from the tunnel with the tournament trophy in tow. Immediately, Taylor was greeted by eager Wisconsin fans.
"We just love watching you play," one woman said.
"Can he have an autograph?" asked another, standing next to two young boys. She pointed to one of the little ones.
"His brother has one, but he doesn't. He loves you."
Taylor smiled, said hello, set the trophy on the ground and took the pen and paper from the young boy's hand. He signed autographs, the first of many.
It was just another night of college hoops stardom for Taylor, a preseason Associated Press All-American and the unquestioned charismatic leader and floor general of the 2011-12 Wisconsin Badgers. But for once, the biggest star of Wisconsin's tourney title night was not Taylor but an unheralded sophomore playing just 15 minutes south of his suburban Chicago hometown.
Ben Brust had just tied the Badgers' school record for most 3-pointers in a game -- he made seven Saturday night -- and his performance was the difference between the Badgers' 17-point final margin and the narrow 34-32 lead Bo Ryan's team held at the half.
Ben Brust connected on 7 of 10 3-pointers and led Wisconsin in scoring with 21 points.
Even better? Brust -- a native of Hawthorn Woods, Ill., and former star at nearby Mundelein High School -- got to take his first collegiate star turn in front of a dozen family members and friends.
"I had my brother, my nephew, my sister-in-law, cousins, uncles all here," Brust said. "My other brother is in Pennsylvania for the holidays, so I wonder how he feels right now, having to watch that on TV. But it was great to see everyone around the holidays.
"My brothers have really distinctive voices," Brust said, laughing.
They -- not to mention Brust's coaches and teammates -- had much to cheer about. His shooting was the catalyst in a win that moved the Badgers to 6-0 overall for the first time in Ryan's consistently successful 10-year tenure at the program. It's the ideal start for a team that lost top forwards Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil this offseason yet appears, somehow, to have lost nary a step in the trade.
A glance at Saturday's box score tells the story: Forward Mike Bruesewitz, a role player in 2011, scored 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field. Forward Jared Berggren added 13 points of his own on 6-of-9 from the field. Guard Josh Gasser went 1-for-4 from 3 Saturday and moved his 3-point field goal mark for the season to 15-of-21. Taylor, the primary ball handler and offensive director -- few moments in the game pass by in which Taylor isn't instructing his teammates in one fashion or another -- finished with 18 points and eight assists.
The naked eye revealed it, too: In the first half Saturday, BYU coach Dave Rose made a few brilliant defensive tweaks, switching his defense to a high-pressure elevated zone that kept Wisconsin out of the paint and forced the Badgers to commit rare turnovers. But other than that 10-minute stretch -- once Wisconsin had time to adjust -- BYU simply couldn't guard everyone.
On this night, Brust was the primary recipient of Taylor's incisive ball movement. But it just as easily could have been (and often was) Bruesewitz, Berggren, Gasser or even forward Ryan Evans.
"You just go where the guys aren't," Brust said. "It's all about reading the game."
There's a reason Wisconsin entered Saturday's title matchup ranked No. 3 in adjusted efficiency. The Badgers don't turn the ball over. They defend the perimeter better than any other team in the country, ranking No. 1 in opponents' effective field goal percentage. (On Saturday, as Wisconsin was racking up its 13 3-pointers, BYU was in the midst of a 1-for-10 night from beyond the arc.) Most importantly, at least in recent seasons, the Badgers' offense -- Ryan's patient swing-style motion -- is at its best a well-oiled, balanced machine.
"Ben's not the only guy on our team like that," Taylor said. "That's the beauty of playing with the guys we have in our locker room. Anyone can get hot at a certain time. It's all about making the right decisions and staying confident."
"He's definitely gotten hot before. Even last year as a freshman. Just now in the locker room we were talking about who had the most points in high school, and I think Ben has it far and away. He can score the ball. We know what he can do. It's really no surprise to us when he gets hot like that and kind of takes over the game."
For the record, Brust said, he scored 50 points twice in high school. Any locals from Hawthorn Woods or Mundelein or the rest of the northwest suburbs where Brust plied his prep trade would have recognized Saturday night's throwback performance. But for the rest of the college hoops world, which until this point knew Brust only as a YouTube-link-worthy NASCAR impersonator, it may be time to sit up and take notice. Wisconsin is a team with a star, yes, but even without Leuer and Nankivil, it is also so much more.
The Badgers' next game will be much more difficult than its last. It's the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It's North Carolina. It's Chapel Hill.
One thing's for sure: If the 6-foot-2 guard from Hawthorn Woods shoots this well at the Dean Dome on Wednesday, Brust may a few have autograph seekers of his own. And this time, they won't be family.