EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Ben Brust loves to go inside with all the big men and come away with the basketball. The guard plays a lot bigger than his stature, much to the delight of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.
Brust had 12 points and eight rebounds after missing the last two days of practice with a sore left knee, and the 19th-ranked Badgers shut down Northwestern 69-41 on Wednesday night for their fifth win in six games.
“We needle him a little bit. He’s a lot tougher than he looks,” Ryan said. “Physically he’s bought into everything we’re trying to do and have done over the years.”
The balanced Badgers (19-8, 10-4 Big Ten) had five players with at least eight points and held the Wildcats to 29-percent shooting during a very businesslike performance. Jared Berggren also had 12 points and eight rebounds as Wisconsin enjoyed a 47-22 edge on the boards.
“In a game like tonight they’re going to take some outside shots, so there’s going to be long rebounds,” Brust said. “I just try to track it down and make sure my guy isn’t going in there. Just trying to help out the bigs.”
Brust, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, got each of his eight boards on the defensive glass and is second on the team with 5.6 rebounds per game. The junior said his knee felt great after the game.
Reggie Hearn scored 13 for Northwestern (13-14, 4-10), which has dropped four in a row and six of seven. The Wildcats, who have lost four players to season-ending injuries, went 8 for 24 from 3-point range, but managed just seven field goals from inside the arc.
“Just having a hard time putting the ball in the basket, and our rebounding, it’s just been anemic,” coach Bill Carmody said.
Wisconsin snapped a tie with No. 7 Michigan for third in the loaded Big Ten and moved within a game of fourth-ranked Michigan State for the second spot. The Badgers are now off until they host Nebraska on Tuesday, while the Wolverines and Spartans each play on Sunday.
It was the only scheduled meeting of the season for the Wildcats and Badgers, but Berggren and Co. will return to the area next month for the conference tournament at the United Center.
This trip was certainly a productive one.
Wisconsin opened the game with a 9-0 run and led 28-12 at intermission, holding Northwestern to 20 percent shooting and a season-low point total for any half. The Badgers also had a 23-8 rebounding edge at the break.
“I thought especially in the first half we did a good job getting on the offensive glass when they were in the zone,” Berggren said. “That was something we looked to take advantage of and we did a pretty good job doing that.”
Traevon Jackson helped key the fast start with a nice block on a 3-point attempt by Dave Sobolewski. Brust caught the loose ball and sent it up the court for Jackson, who converted the easy layup during the Badgers’ opening spurt.
Jackson tacked on a nice pullup jumper at the halftime horn for Wisconsin, which held Ohio State to 38-percent shooting in an impressive 71-49 victory in its previous game.
“We make teams defend us for a long time,” Berggren said. “Make them play hard defense and if we can get on the offensive glass and then make them do it again, it can be discouraging to teams.”
Northwestern’s numbers at the break were bleak all-around. It had just one field goal inside of the arc, and Hearn went 1 for 2 in its only trip to the free-throw line with 1:27 to go.
“They just kind of pounded us and took advantage of their size,” Hearn said.
The Wildcats looked a little better on offense at the start of the second half, closing to 31-19 on Tre Demps’ 3-pointer with 17:46 left. But the Badgers responded with an 8-2 spurt and enjoyed their biggest lead at the final buzzer.
Sam Dekker had 10 points for Wisconsin, and Jackson finished with eight points, seven rebounds and five assists.