MADISON, Wis. — The reasons for Ben Brust’s dramatic increase in rebounding totals this season aren’t entirely clear. Maybe it’s more assertiveness as an upperclassman. Perhaps it’s a measure of toughness or simply being in the right place on the court.
Brust, Wisconsin’s 6-foot-1, 195-pound off-guard, doesn’t know why he leads the Badgers in rebounds after three games. All he knows is that if the shot goes up and his man hasn’t raced to the other end of the court for a fast break, he’s going after it.
More times than not this season, Brust has managed to come up with the ball.
During Wisconsin’s 73-40 victory against Cornell on Sunday night at the Kohl Center, Brust tallied 18 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in 31 minutes. It marked his second double-double in three games this season. He registered 14 points and 11 rebounds in Wisconsin’s season opener against Southeastern Louisiana.
“When I see the opportunity for an offensive rebound, I’ll go for it,” Brust said. “As long as I can get back. Defensively, I think I’ve got a good read on where the ball’s going to hit the rim and just timing, going after it and grabbing it.”
Brust is now averaging 8.3 rebounds per game one season after he averaged just 2.2.
Wisconsin’s 6-10 center Jared Berggren is second on the team in rebounds this season with 7.0 per game. Berggren, who has played in 87 games, has yet to register a double-double in his career. Brust now has two in his 54-game college career.
“I’m just sick because he’s stealing all my stats,” Berggren joked. “As long as we’re closing out the defensive possession, getting the ball, that’s what it takes. I don’t care who’s getting it. A defensive possession isn’t over until we come away with the ball. He’s cleaned things up, so it’s good.”
Last season, Brust was pegged mostly as a 3-point threat off the bench for the Badgers while averaging 21.3 minutes per game. He twice tied the school record by making seven 3-pointers in a game. His highest rebounding output was six against UMKC early in the year, and he didn’t have more than four in any other game.
But Brust is now a junior, and he’s starting for the first time in his career and playing 27.3 minutes per outing. With starting point guard Josh Gasser out for the season from a torn ACL, one of the team’s guards needed to emerge as a reliable player willing to do the little things. And through three games, Brust has done his part.
“I saw it on the tape, but his offensive rebounding, he goes so hard and crashes the offensive glass,” Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. “If you have a small guard on him, he does a great job of getting in an area and getting to the glass. That was the most surprising thing from Ben.
“We thought that we could maybe pressure him a little bit, but he was poised with any kind of ball pressure. I thought he played really good.”
Brust’s increased versatility is noticeable in more than simply his rebounding stats. Last season, for example, he took 149 3-point shots and 83 2-pointers. This year, he has more 2-point attempts (22) than 3-point tries (eight). Brust also is averaging three free throw attempts per game thus far. He tallied less than one per game a year ago.
Badgers coach Bo Ryan described Brust as a “gamer” that goes all out on the court.
“That’s the way he plays,” Ryan said. “He plays hard. Sometimes it works against him on trying to be too aggressive with the ball. But otherwise he tracks everything down. He’s got a nose for the ball. He’ll get better at finishing on the shots around the paint.”
It remains to be seen how well Brust will rebound against teams with more physical guards. During Wisconsin’s 74-56 loss at Florida, he tallied just two rebounds. But for now, his presence on the glass has been a welcome sight for the Badgers. Brust even has eight offensive rebounds, second only to Berggren’s nine.
Now if only Brust would quit stealing Berggren’s rebounds so he can get that double-double . . .
“I’ve been looking at every game like, ‘I’m going to get a double-double tonight,’ and I haven’t been able to do it yet,” Berggren said. “He’s cleaned things up. I’ve got to make it happen here sooner or later.”