The guys from Illinois stick up for themselves at No. 9 Wisconsin. If a teammate starts ribbing Ben Brust about being from the Land of Lincoln, the Badgers guard likes to dish it right back.
”All they know is cheese and dairy,” Brust joked about the in-state Badgers. ”It’s all in good fun.”
Things are pretty upbeat these days in Madison, where Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5 Big Ten) is riding a seven-game winning streak heading into the season’s final home game against Purdue on Wednesday night. Time for Brust, a senior from Hawthorn Woods, Ill., to take his last bow at the Kohl Center.
Emotions will run high, as they always do on a Senior Night. But the game against the Boilermakers comes with additional perspective for a team that’s had one tough stretch of basketball sandwiched by a record 16-0 start and what the team hopes will be a strong finish to the regular season.
Losing Wednesday would give the Badgers four conference home losses for the first time under Bo Ryan, and Purdue knows something about surprising Wisconsin in Madison. The Boilermakers spoiled Senior Day there just last season, toppling the 17th-ranked Badgers 69-56 – Wisconsin’s first loss in a home season finale in Ryan’s 12 seasons.
Ask Ryan and he’ll tell you he’s barely thought about that defeat since.
"If you want the meaning of your life to be about one game then you’re pretty shallow," Ryan said.
Sunday’s 71-66 win at Penn State guaranteed Wisconsin its 13th consecutive top-four finish in the Big Ten, locking up a first-round bye in the conference tournament. That’s where Ryan has kept his focus.
"We don’t want the Badgers to be a flash in the pan," he said. "We want our teams to be consistent."
Brust shot 2 of 7 from 3-point range in last season’s Senior Day loss – the Badgers went 6 of 27 from beyond the arc – but Wisconsin toppled Purdue 72-58 in West Lafayette on Jan. 25 by getting to the line. The Badgers made 27 of 33 free throws in their lone win during a six-game stretch.
No one is more familiar with Wisconsin’s highs and lows than Brust, Ryan’s best 3-point threat who has had to endure recent slumps. A career 38 percent shooter from long range, Brust had a 5-of-20 stretch over three games a few weeks ago. That was soon followed by a two-game run of 1 of 13 from behind the arc.
The shot has come back the last two games with Brust hitting 7 of 16 from 3-point territory. No need for ”shooter’s amnesia” for now.
”It’s OK to remember the good ones,” Brust said. ”You hit one or two and it starts feeling pretty good.”
Averaging a career-best 12.6 points, Brust helps provide the outside shot on one of the most potent offensive teams in Ryan’s 13-year tenure at Wisconsin. He’s only 6-foot-1, but Brust is also the team’s third-leading rebounder at 4.8 per game.
Brust is also able to effectively guard taller opponents by pestering and not clutching or grabbing to slow someone down.
”You’ve been on a picnic before, you’ve been camping, you’ve been outdoors. How big is a mosquito? Not very big,” Ryan said. ”But, boy, can it be a nuisance.”
Brust’s 210 career 3s rank fifth in school history. He needs 18 to break a record set by Tim Locum from 1988-91. Keep playing the way they’re playing of late, and the Badgers have a shot of staying on the court deep into March and giving Brust a chance to set a school mark.
Besides Brust, center Evan Anderson and forward Zach Bohannon – both reserves – will be honored on Senior Night.
Purdue (15-14, 5-11) heads into this meeting in a three-way tie for last place in the conference and is in the midst of a four-game losing streak. The last two have been tight, as it fell on an overtime buzzer-beater to then-No. 16 Michigan last Wednesday before losing 83-76 at then-No. 20 Iowa on Sunday.
The Boilermakers fell to 0-7 this season against ranked teams.
Their only win against a Top 25 opponent in their last 15 came last season in Madison, where they’ve won three times in five visits since 2007-08. Wisconsin has only lost nine other conference contests at home in that span.
Purdue will be without freshman forward Jay Simpson, whose career is over because of a heart condition.
In a release issued Tuesday night, coach Matt Painter said Simpson was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – the same condition former basketball stars Hank Gathers, Reggie Lewis, Kevin Duckworth and Jason Collier all died from.
Simpson started seven times and played in 26 games this season, averaging 4.3 points and 3.6 rebounds.