MADISON, Wis. — There were nights last winter when Ben Brust so thoroughly dominated a basketball game with his 3-point shooting, it seemed unfair that opposing teams couldn’t put seven players on the court to guard him.
Then again, perhaps it wouldn’t even have mattered.
Twice last season, Brust tied the University of Wisconsin single-game record for 3-pointers made, canning seven 3s against BYU and seven more against UNLV two weeks later. His performance against the Runnin’ Rebels tied a Big Ten record for most 3s in one contest without a miss.
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Brust’s confidence ballooned, and he became the first man off coach Bo Ryan’s bench during Big Ten games. For a sophomore who rarely played as a freshman, it was all Brust could’ve wanted.
But just as Brust gained traction in the Badgers’ playing rotation, his shooting stroke faded and his minutes tapered off. By the end of conference play, he had ceded much of his playing time to teammate Rob Wilson.
From start to finish, the season proved to be a study in maintaining composure for Brust.
“Obviously, there were ups and some downs,” Brust told FOXSportsWisconsin.com last week. “You’ve just got to learn from it. That’s what I took from my freshman year. There was a lot of downs my freshman year. I took those times that I didn’t like, and it motivated me for the next year. I’ve got to take what I learned from last year as motivation for next year.”
As Brust prepares to take on a bigger role for the Badgers in 2012-13, he hopes to expand his game and avoid enduring the same pitfalls that overshadowed a promising sophomore campaign.
Last season, Brust thrived for stretches as a spot-up 3-point shooter because of his quick release. But once teams saw his immense shooting capabilities during games, defenders crowded Brust’s space around the perimeter, forcing him to beat them off the dribble. As a result, Brust’s 3-point statistics declined.
Through 10 games, Brust made 29 of 59 3-pointers (49.1 percent). He made 29 3-pointers the rest of the season over the next 26 games, going 29 for 90 (32.2 percent).
“I think that was something he learned was that people were going to take away his ability to set his feet and just shoot it,” Badgers assistant coach Greg Gard said. “He could put the ball on the floor, and he’d do some of that in drills and workouts and in practice, but it’s still translating that and having the confidence to do that within the speed of the game. . . .
“You’ve got to be able to cross that bridge and do it when the live bullets are flying, so to speak.”
Brust, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound guard from Hawthorn Woods, Ill., said he had devoted much of this summer’s workouts to improving in those other areas, including ball handling, passing and jump shots in the lane — he shot 149 3-pointers and 83 2-pointers last season.
“I’m just trying things out right now,” Brust said. “Now’s the time to do it to get better for the season. Nothing really specific. Just getting to the hole, maybe a floater, a dumpoff or a turnaround. It just depends.”
Brust maintains trust his hard work will pay off because of the significant leap he made last offseason.
As a freshman, Brust scored 10 points and played 45 minutes the entire season, primarily serving as a guard on Wisconsin’s scout team. But during his sophomore season, he averaged 21.3 minutes per game and was fifth on the Badgers in scoring, averaging 7.3 points and 2.2 rebounds.
Still, he hasn’t forgotten a stretch late last season in which he didn’t score a point during six of 11 games of Big Ten play. During the Big Ten tournament semifinal against Michigan State, Brust played a season-low three minutes.
“During the time you don’t have time to sit there and just be down about it,” Brust said. “You’ve got to work hard every day. Because if you sit back and worry about it too much, then you lose even more time. You’ve just kind of got to attack it.”
For the first time under new NCAA rules, coaches can work out with their players on the court this summer for two hours each week. During those sessions, Gard said he’s seen Brust’s confidence return.
“The one thing you see with older guys is they always come back more confident and more sure of themselves,” Gard said. “That’s the one thing I’ve noticed with Ben this summer in the workouts so far. He’s attacked things. And he really hasn’t looked around and waited for somebody else to make a play. He’s been the one trying to make a play.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Brust credits making a few 3-pointers late last season as an important reason for his renewed confidence. During three NCAA tournament games, Brust nailed 7 of 13 3-point attempts, including three against top-seeded Syracuse in a one-point Sweet 16 loss.
Now, he’s ready to carry over that late-season streak into his junior season. And it certainly won’t hurt that he’ll possess a few more offensive weapons up his sleeve.
“I think at the end of the season, I got a little confidence back,” Brust said. “You never know when it can all flip, so you’ve got to be ready at all times.”