Ben Brust made a deep two-pointer to open the second half, stole a pass seconds later, and cruised in for what looked like an easy breakaway dunk. However, the 6-foot-1 Brust didn’t get quite enough hang time and was forced to look on helplessly as the ball rattled around the rim and went airborne. After teammate Traevon Jackson committed a foul while trying to chase down the errant highlight attempt, Brust used the stoppage in play to have a few choice words with the ball before slamming it to the court and tossing it to the official with a smile.
The missed dunk ended up being unimportant to the outcome of the game, but just about everything else Brust has done in the past three seasons has been vitally important to the success of the Wisconsin Badgers. Tonight’s scare was just another example of how Brust has developed from a bench scorer into No. 12 Wisconsin’s best player.
Sam Dekker is the most talented player on the team, but Brust is Wisconsin’s best all-around player. He is the Badgers’ shortest starter, yet he leads the team in rebounding with six per game after averaging 5.1 per game last year. He made a Wisconsin single-season record 79 3-pointers last season, and has already made 14 this season while shooting a sparkling 44 percent from deep. Furthermore, Brust played five more minutes per game than anyone else on the team last season, and holds the same minutes lead this year.
To top things off, Brust shoots 93 percent from the free throw line for a team that has recently struggled in that area.
Brust’s performance in the Badgers’ 76-67 win over the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles wasn’t as efficient as usual — he shot just 3-for-9 — but he still scored 12 points. In typical fashion, Brust also had five assists, led the team with eight rebounds, made all four of his free throw attempts, and only committed one foul.
In a way, it was more impressive than his aerial firework display from the 2011 non-conference season, when Brust burst onto the scene as a sophomore with 14 points in the season opener, followed by 21 points on a school record-tying seven 3-pointers in a 73-57 win over the Brigham Young Cougars. That win got Wisconsin off to its first-ever 6-0 start under Bo Ryan. Tonight’s win marks the second 6-0 start for Wisconsin in Ryan’s 13-year tenure in Madison.
This is a different Wisconsin team than the ones that college basketball fans and pundits are used to seeing. Not only are the Badgers setting team and individual scoring milestones while utilizing what is effectively a four-guard lineup, but they’re also giving up more rebounds than usual and allowing nearly 69 points per game. However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Ben Brust was Wisconsin’s best player last year, and he is Wisconsin’s best player again this year.