March 21, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MILWAUKEE -- Is this Wisconsin basketball team better equipped to make the adjustment from playing an American University to an Oregon? Can the Badgers make the transition from a half-court opponent to one that wants to score in transition? Have they already made that transition in their own game separating this team from others?
UW junior Josh Gasser applied reason to what are reasonable questions in a tournament format and suggested the diversity of the Big Ten had prepared the Badgers to make the necessary adjustments because “we’ve pretty much seen it all” in terms of style.
“We’ve seen teams that like to get up and down and we’ve seen teams that like to slow it down,” Gasser said. “A team like Oregon is going to push the pace a little bit more and try to play above the rim a little bit more.”
Whereas American was deliberate -- a Bill Carmody, Northwestern deliberate -- Oregon wants to pick up the tempo along the lines of an Iowa, Indiana or even a Michigan. The Ducks want to stay out of a low-possession game.
“It’s definitely going to be a different type team than we faced (Thursday),” Gasser said. “They will play faster and there will be more athletes on the floor. But if we follow our rules and the scouting report defensively you can see what can happen.”
What happened was that the Badgers suffocated the American offense. Senior guard Ben Brust felt the key to holding the Eagles to under 30 percent shooting were “just staying solid and making them take tough shots” especially after grabbing the momentum.
After falling behind 17-10, Brust hit a 3-pointer that trigged a 22-5 run that would just keep growing and growing well after halftime. It turned a tight, taut NCAA opening game into a Red-White intrasquad scrimmage at the Bradley Center; starters versus the reserves.
“It was good to kind of spark a couple of guys with a couple of made shots,” Brust said. “I think we all fed off that and from that point on we did a good job of defending and getting baskets. I just tried to be aggressive.”
After missing his first shot, Brust said, “You’ve got to know the next one is going in. I got a couple of mid-range jumpers to go down and, collectively, seeing the ball go through the hole kind of helped everyone and it spread throughout the team.”
|“A player like Ben knocking down a shot really opens the game for other people,” Kaminsky said of Gasser. “After he did, it got pretty loud in there -- a little louder than sometimes at the Kohl Center.”
Gasser and Frank Kaminsky definitely saw it the same way.
“It was really important, Gasser said of Brust’s triple, the first of four, “because we couldn’t knock anything down. Frank got us going early (with the first six points) but after that we couldn’t score (for about seven minutes).
“The crowd was getting a little antsy and we were getting a little antsy trying to get something going and Ben hit a 3 to kind of spark us. It was definitely a big play in the game. The crowd really got into it and it got our energy going.”
Said Kaminsky, “A player like Ben knocking down a shot really opens the game for other people. Ben is a volume 3-point shooter and he really knocks down open shots. After he did, it got pretty loud in there -- a little louder than sometimes at the Kohl Center.”
UW sophomore Sam Dekker admitted that it was a “little weird” because it “almost felt like a home game” which is an advantage that not everyone enjoys in the tournament. “But it was great to see all the red in the stands, it was awesome,” Gasser added.
If nothing else, they provided the Badgers with a lift, a wake-up call. They took it from there. “We just wanted to make it a statement win,” Kaminsky said. “This being a No. 2-No. 15 seed game, if you lose, you’re going down in the history books.”
For the wrong reasons. “We didn’t want that to happen,” Kaminsky said, shaking his head. “And however big our run was (50-9) we didn’t want to have what happened last year (a loss in the opening game to Mississippi) happen again this year.”
Speaking of history, Zach Bohannon can bring context to Brust’s inexorable march on the road to the final four. That would be the final four in terms of 3-pointers. Brust now has 224 and needs only four more to pass Tim Locum and take over as the school’s all-time leader.
“Ben has been a great player throughout his four years,” said Bohannon, whose brother, Jason, is fifth on the UW’s career list with 212. “He (Brust) didn’t get many minutes his first year and he worked his butt off and got into the rotation his sophomore year.
“I always thought that the player on the roster that was the closet comparison to my brother was Josh Gasser. But the more and more that I’m in this program, Ben is almost the exact replica of what Jason was and did.
“He’s deceivingly athletic and he can get some things done on the defensive end that a lot of people don’t think he can. He has been a senior leader on the court, which has made for a nice combination with Josh in the backcourt.”
Brust fielded question after question about the 3-point record and his answer was always the same. “It would be special; it would definitely be really special,” he said. “But winning is more important. If we keep winning, I think it will happen naturally.”
The benefit of winning now, he said, “Is knowing you’re playing another day.” And nothing, he implied, will change in the success formula from the Eagles to the Ducks. “We’re trying to take care of the ball, get good shots and play good defense,” he said.
In such Brust trusts.