Photo/Mary Langfield USA TODAY Sports
Ben Brust had 18 points as the Badgers matched the school-record for the best start in the modern-era.
(4) UW 78, Milwaukee 52: Still early
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - Don’t get them wrong. The players for the University of Wisconsin basketball team are happy their 78-52 win over Milwaukee moved them to 11-0 – tied for the best start to a season in the modern-era. They couldn’t agree more with the hashtag that Gary Parrish of CBS Sports started
, and the program’s Twitter account has adopted
. Ranked No. 4 in the country already, they’ve got big goals for the rest of the season and they are well on their way to achieving them. But they also know it’s early. Very early.
“It’s definitely something that’s been good,” Ben Brust said. “There’s no denying we’ve had a good start, being 11-0, but we still know that it’s going to get much, much harder moving forward.”
And if any of them forgets that, UW coach Bo Ryan will be there to remind them.
“Yay for the team,” Ryan said about the undefeated start. “You get credit for what you’ve done to this point. It’s like in class, you do your assignments and then you get credit for them. If you do them well, you get stars on your paper, or a pat on the back. But if you stop doing them well, everything just goes the other way. So far to this point, they’ve found a way to get a lot of things done…We’re 11 games into it, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
It didn’t look that way in the first half on Wednesday. After an uneven start that saw them turn the ball over three times in their first four possessions – including two by Traevon Jackson – the Badgers got hot from the outside, led by Brust. He scored 13 straight to take a game that was 7-7 and turn it into a 20-9 Wisconsin lead.
“Ben is one of those guys that can get hot real quick and he can change the complexion of a whole game just because he’s such a sharp shooter,” Sam Dekker said. “When he gets hot, you better watch out. He hit those first few shots in the first half and we said, ’We’ve got to keep feeding him.’ Find the guy that’s grooving at that time.”
Brust’s shots were part of a 28-6 Badgers run that included the 6-foot-2 Jackson gliding through the lane and slamming it down over Milwaukee’s 6-foot-7 Malcom Moore and bringing the Kohl Center crowd – and his teammates – to their feet.
“We do some shooting drills on hard attacks to the basket,” Ryan said. “He’s done it. He’s done it at practice. He had the lane.”
Wisconsin held a 45-25 lead at the half, powered by shooting 64-percent (16 of 25) from the field and a blistering 69.2-percent (9 of 13) from beyond the arc. It also included forcing 11 turnovers, which the Badgers turned into 18 points.
“I thought defensively we did a good job of getting our hands on some passes and creating some turnovers,” Ryan said. “I thought our guys did a pretty good job of getting deflections and turning those into points, and those are huge.”
The second half was a different story for the Badgers shooting wise. They hit just 1 of 13 from 3-point range and were 41-percent (15 of 36) from the field. That left Brust, who finished with 18 points but just two after halftime, a little down after the game.
“I don’t know where that went in the second half. It would’ve been nice to keep that rhythm,” Brust said. So just a product of having some good offense -- driving, kicking, finding guys. Shot the ball pretty well early and that kind of died off for us in the second half. But felt good early on.”
Wisconsin had a scoring drought of nearly five minutes that allowed the Panthers to pull to within 61-45 with 7:33 left. But a 12-3 Badgers run put the game out of reach for good.
It was a nice game from Brust who has been overlooked due to the other stories happening around this team. While Frank Kaminsky’s 43-point game against North Dakota and the return of Josh Gasser from a knee injury are grabbing headlines, Brust has just been the steady guy that fans have come to expect. He’s third on the team in scoring (12 ppg) and rebounds (5.4 pg) while hitting 42-percent of his shots from distance. But the other headlines – like Dekker’s progress in his sophomore season and the attention that a point guard like Jackson draws – have left one of the two seniors on the team unnoticed by some.
“Ben is one of those guys that’s not going to always pass the eye test for some people,” said Dekker, who got a ‘Thanks, Sam’ from Brust. “But he’s always one of those guys that’s going to get it done day in and day out. Last year he didn’t always get the shine either, but he led our team in scoring, hit some of the biggest shots of the year and really paced us offensively and got things going for us. And again he’s doing that this year.
“He’s usually been the guy to open up the game for us hitting a big shot or making a hustle play and getting boards. He’s one of the hardest working players on that court day in and day out. A lot of people don’t notice that, but within our team and within the realms of the locker room we definitely notice that and look to him as one of the main leaders of our team because he’s been here and he knows what it takes.”
Wisconsin had what it took to take care of the Panthers, who came into the game having won more games this year (9) than they did all of last year (8). Milwaukee got 17 points from Kyle Kelm to lead them but their other forward, Matt Tiby, finished with six of their 19 turnovers on the night.
“It happens in this building,” said Jeter of the turnovers. “I’ve been in here a lot, and for whatever reason, teams come in here and they get sped up a little bit. But it’s not the point of being sped up, I think you really want to get the ball inside and attack, and they do a nice job of helping and recovering. And they’re long, and a lot of our passes were deflected.”
Many of those deflections came from Kaminsky, who had two steals to go along with 16 points. Jackson, who had the two turnovers early, didn’t turn it over again and finished with 12 points and four assists. Their efforts helped Wisconsin sweep their in-state games, taking out UW-Green Bay, Marquette and Milwaukee.
The 26-point margin of victory was Wisconsin's largest all year. But it could have been more as the slow start to the game and that drought in the second half left points on the court. And against the better competition the Badgers are going to face those types of empty possessions could cost them.
“We’ve gotten into a couple of those funks early this year,” said Dekker, who finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “Granted they aren’t real long ones, we snap out of them. We’re trying to limit that as much as possible because we’re going to be playing much better teams down the road here and we’re not going to be able to luck out with some of the plays that have been happening. When we play a team like Ohio State and we get in one of those funks and they go on a 10-, 12-0 run, it’s really hard to snap back from that stuff. We just have to be able to have a constant 40 minutes of hard work and staying sharp and staying focused.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin