Brust closes in on career mark as Badgers begin NCAA tournament
There’s a drill the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team occasionally uses in practice that is tailor-made for senior guard Ben Brust.
The 3-minute session begins with a player shooting a 3-pointer from the right corner, then running to midcourt and returning to the arc for another shot attempt. If the player misses the shot, he must go back to the right corner and attempt another one. Once he makes a shot from the right corner, he can move on to the right wing, followed by the top of the key, the left wing and the left corner.
Once a player completes the right-to-left circuit around the arc, he works his way back around the opposite way. By the end of those 180 seconds, players are exhausted because of the required trips to midcourt before every shot.
Brust has made as many as 26 shots during the drill — or one every 6.9 seconds — and put on a shooting clinic earlier this season that left some high school players who were attending practice that day shaking their heads in amazement.
They weren’t alone. Even Wisconsin junior guard Josh Gasser, whose responsibility during the drill is to serve as Brust’s rebounder and keep track of his made shots, admits it’s fun to just sit back and watch when his teammate gets in rhythm and swishes shot after shot.
“If he’s got a clear look at the rim, he knows he’s going to make it before he shoots it,” Gasser said. “He’s just going to pull it and make it.”
As Brust’s career winds to a close, he has a chance to become the program’s all-time leader in 3- pointers. Truth is, he’d much rather be remembered as one of the players who helped the Badgers return to the Final Four.
That’s not a far-fetched goal for Wisconsin (26-7), which opens NCAA tournament play as a No. 2 seed in the West region and will play American University (20-12) at 11:40 a.m. today at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
The Badgers’ chances for a deep run would certainly improve if Brust can get on one of his hot streaks. He was 7 of 15 from 3-point range during two Big Ten tournament games last weekend, making four en route to a career-high 29 points during a quarterfinal victory over Minnesota.
That gave Brust 220 3-pointers in his career, leaving him seven short of tying Tim Locum for the most in program history. Brust also owns the two highest single-season marks, making 81 this season and 79 as a junior.
Memorable shots It took Brust only a few moments to recall the details of his first 3-pointer with the Badgers.
“Manhattan, left corner, in Orlando on Thanksgiving Day,” he said of the final basket in Wisconsin’s 50-35 victory over the Jaspers in an Old Spice Classic quarterfinal on Nov. 25, 2010.
The only other 3-pointer Brust made as a freshman — he only appeared in 15 games and played 45 minutes that season — was memorable as well. It came just before the clock expired in the Badgers’ 82-56 victory over Michigan State on Feb. 6, 2011.
“Here’s the thing,” Brust said. “The shot clock was 35, the game clock was 35. 5 and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’ve got the ball, I’m going to shoot it because I don’t want to get a turnover and I know coach (Bo Ryan) hates turnovers.’ So I shot it.”
The 3-pointer from Brust’s career that will stick in fans’ minds for a long time was a buzzer-beater from just inside half-court to send a game against Michigan last season to overtime. Brust was just as proud of the 3-pointer he made from the right wing with 39. 6 seconds remaining in overtime because it provided the winning points in UW’s 65-62 victory over the Wolverines.
“The one after the half-courter felt almost better,” Brust said. “It wasn’t as cool, so to speak, but it’s meaningful for me because I let it go and I knew that one was in and we were going to get the lead.”
Brust has made four or more 3-pointers in a game 16 times during his career, including a school-record tying seven in non-conference games against BYU and UNLV during his sophomore season.
Gasser believes part of the reason he’s a good defender is because he’s had to guard Brust during open-gym sessions during the offseason.
“You’re covering him straight up, you’ve got a hand up, you think a ball screen is coming, so you just turn your head for a split second looking for the screen and you look back up and the ball is in the air and it’s nylon,” Gasser said. “That’s what’s hard about covering him. You’ve always got to be focused, you’ve always got to be paying attention to him.”
Formula for success Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close, who often works with Badger shooters, said he hasn’t done much tweaking with Brust’s shot.
Brust credits Michael Weinstein, his longtime AAU coach, for helping him develop into a long-range sniper. The two trade notes, and Weinstein is a regular at Wisconsin games.
When something is going wrong with Brust’s shot, he usually doesn’t need to watch film to find the problem. A lot of it comes down to feel.
“It’s all between the pipes, too,” Brust said. “When I start overanalyzing, that’s when I get myself in trouble. Keeping it simple is key for shooting and just having confidence at all times.”
Brust has been remarkably consistent during his career. During his final three seasons with the Badgers, his 3-point shooting percentages have been 38.9, 38.9 and 37.9.
“The thing about Ben, as you watch him shoot, typically every shot, every release is the same,” Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard said. “When you see really good shooters, there’s not a lot of change in delivery. They’re all the same.”
Can Brust get hot in the NCAA tournament? Close certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
“He’s a proven big-time shooter,” Close said.