KANSAS CITY, MO. – Christian Watford probably thought he had done his job last weekend when the Indiana forward stopped Wisconsin guard Ben Brust from getting to the rim.
What Watford quickly discovered was Brust had a backup plan. A very good one, in fact.
Brust, who had gotten the ball at the top of the key and glided down the left side of the lane through open space created by Frank Kaminsky’s screen before Watford cut off his access to the basket, came to a stop just outside the left block.
A year ago, Brust might have been stuck with nowhere to go. This time, he used a reverse pivot to create some separation between himself and Watford — who at 6-9 is 8 inches taller than Brust — and lofted a 10-foot jumper that touched nothing but net.
How Brust produced those points — two of his 12 during the Badgers’ 68-56 victory over the Hoosiers in the Big Ten tournament semifinals in Chicago — offered a perfect illustration of how far he has come during a career that continues to trend upward.
“Ben’s done a great job of expanding his game,” Badgers senior Jared Berggren said, “[by] applying a lot of the stuff we do in practice to become a more well-rounded player.”
Brust is Wisconsin’s leading scorer at 11.2 points per game heading into Friday’s NCAA tournament opener between the fifth-seeded Badgers (23-11) and 12th-seeded Mississippi (26-8).
Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard compared Brust’s development to that of Jason Bohannon, who played guard for the Badgers from 2006 to ’10. Both arrived in Madison known primarily as spot-up shooters but expanded their games out of sheer necessity.
For Bohannon, it was adding a step-back jumper to his repertoire. Brust has the reverse pivot move that he has gained more and more confidence in since the start of the season.
“It’s been huge,” Gard said, “because you can’t play at this level and be a one-dimensional player, at least for very long.”
Brust is still lethal from the three-point line. He’s shooting 39.7 percent from beyond the arc and has made 77 threes on the season, leaving him one shy of tying Sean Mason for the school single-season record.
But Brust has become more of a threat inside the arc. Last season, 63 percent of his made field goals were three-pointers; this season, that percentage is down to 55.8.
Coach Bo Ryan has praised Brust’s quickness coming off screens. Even if it doesn’t result in points for himself, Brust’s movement away from the ball opens up space for his teammates.
“He’s a lot more confident this year,” injured teammate Josh Gasser said of Brust, his roommate and close friend. “He knows he’s one of the best options we have on our team as far as scoring goes and offensively. … He’s really expanded his game, not only as a spot-up three-point shooter but scoring off the dribble, scoring off curl cuts to the rim.”
Said Brust: “Just trying to expand overall. You try and get better a little bit each time, whether it be in the offseason, in season, you’ve got to learn. . I’m just trying to do what I can to help.”