Feb. 10, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's Ben Brust has twice won the shooting competition between the guards and the "bigs'' by making a successful halfcourt shot at the end of Wisconsin's team shoot-arounds on game days. The position groups get in lines and fire away from 47 feet at opposite baskets, with each player rebounding their own misses. The exercise breaks up the practice routine while honing a competitive edge.
"We do those half-court shots not only to keep the guys loose,'' said UW associate head coach Greg Gard, "but it lets you know who has the touch and who can judge distance, those types of things. You work on it because you never know when it's going to come into play.''
Beyond making a half-court shot at Iowa on Jan. 19 -- he didn't call "bank'' and he didn't get credit because it came after the first half buzzer -- Brust remembered `'hitting one'' at Mundelein (Ill.) High School. "But it was nothing like that,'' he said incredulously.
| "I was on the sidelines yelling to get Ben the ball," Gasser said. "He finds a way to get the ball in the hoop. I knew that he was our best option."
Nothing like Saturday's half-court shot against Michigan at the Kohl Center.
Not by a long shot, actually, he added with complete innocence.
Among the stunned bystanders was Brust's teammate, Josh Gasser.
"My jaw just dropped,'' he said. "That surpassed mine by a million.''
On Feb. 23, 2011, Gasser, then a freshman, beat Michigan with a buzzer-beater in Ann Arbor. He banked a 3-point shot from 20 feet that rallied the Badgers to a dramatic 53-52 win at Crisler Arena. The Wolverines had four team fouls to give and whittled the final possession from 22 seconds to 6.
Gasser inbounded to Jordan Taylor, who drew a double-team and fed Gasser to the right of the key. After making the shot, Gasser was bear-hugged by Taylor, and both tumbled to the floor while Tim Hardaway, Jr. and his Michigan teammates walked off in dejection.
Two years ago, Mike Bruesewitz played only seven minutes in that memorable win. Obviously, he will have fonder memories of Saturday's improbable 65-62 overtime triumph against Michigan since he was the quarterback who got the ball in Brust's hands at the end of regulation.
Only 2.8 seconds remained when the Badgers called a timeout and huddled. Brusewitz was in a foul mood; not only didn't he foul the aforementioned Hardaway on the Wolverines' previous offensive possession, but Hardaway drilled a cold-blooded 3-pointer over him to give Michigan a 60-57 lead.
"I'm pretty heated because my man just scored on me and it was looking pretty dismal,'' Bruesewitz said. "Maybe I could have fouled him (Hardaway) when he caught it. I got over the ball screen and I pushed him out to 26 or 27 feet. I had my hand up; I felt I was there, but he just made a tough shot.
"It was better offense (than defense). You have to give him credit.''
The Badgers regularly devote practice time to working on "situational basketball'' -- sequences similar to what unfolded Saturday at the Kohl Center. "You have to give Coach (Bo) Ryan a lot of credit because he doesn't leave any stone unturned,'' Gard said. "We work on all of those different situations. In 2.8 seconds, you get one, maybe two dribbles and you've got to get a shot off.''
For a point of reference, think back to the 2005 Big Ten Tournament semifinal matchup between Iowa and Wisconsin at Chicago's United Center. With 3.7 seconds left in a tie game, Zach Morley inbounded to Alando Tucker, who dribbled within 25 feet of the basket and launched a shot that banked off the glass and beat the buzzer for a 59-56 win over the Hawkeyes.
"This is something we've done a thousand times in practice,'' Ryan said afterward. "We didn't make that shot a thousand times -- understand that. But as far as the catch, getting it up the floor and trying to get the shot off, that's what you need to do.''
• • • •
he catch was just one of the keys Saturday against Michigan. Making a perfect pass was even more critical. "I've seen a lot of times where the pass gets bobbled or deflected,'' said Gard, noting the onus was on Bruesewitz making a good pass to Brust -- akin to a quarterback hitting a receiver in full stride.
"Mike hit Ben where he had to hit him -- on the run -- where he could catch it and keep going and not have to come back and stop. That's the thing: it had to be a perfect pass. If it's not, Ben doesn't have enough time to get squared up. It was a great job of executing in the heat of the moment.''
Bruesewitz had multiple options on the inbounds. Gasser was biased. "I was on the sidelines yelling to get Ben the ball even if he wasn't the most open guy just because Ben can make some wild shots, whether in the halfcourt offense or chucking up one like that,'' Gasser said. "That's just Ben. He finds a way to get the ball in the hoop. I knew that he was our best option.''
| "I looked over and saw Coach Ryan actually put his arms up," Bruesewitz said. "When he shows a little emotion, it means you've done something special."
Traevon Jackson and Sam Dekker both flashed towards Bruesewitz in the backcourt. "But I really don't want to get the ball to someone who's not going towards our rim,'' Bruesewitz said. "Trae was a little deep. I knew the second man (Brust) usually comes back and shallow cuts across the middle a little higher, so I was waiting for that and Ben broke open.''
Michigan coach John Beilein opted not to put a defender on the baseline to contest Bruesewitz's inbounds pass. That was the same strategy that he employed in the 2010 Big Ten Tournament against Ohio State and Evan Turner. With 2.2 seconds remaining, the Wolverines dropped everyone back in a prevent defense, which allowed Turner to advance the ball with no resistance past the timeline -- where he made a game-winning shot from a comparable distance and spot on the floor as Brust did.
Against the Badgers, Beilein instructed his players to foul -- they had two to give -- but freshman Caris LeVert was unable to do so before Brust released his shot. Sizing up the 6-foot-5 LeVert, Brust recognized that "I had to high-arc the shot'' while also knowing "you have to get squared and get the shot off to give yourself a chance; if you don't get it off, you don't have a chance to make it.''
The Kohl Center erupted when the shot whistled through the net.
"I was in shock when it went in, everybody was going crazy,'' Bruesewitz said. "I looked over and saw Coach Ryan actually put his arms up. He showed some emotion, which was odd. I've never really seen him to do that. Every once in awhile, he'll bring it out, and that's when you know something big has happened. When he shows a little emotion, it means you've done something special.''
Brust's reaction? "Let's win overtime,'' he said.
Bruesewitz was on the same wave length. "My thought process was that we didn't win the game yet,'' he said. "We still have five minutes and we have to make sure we take care of business.''
• • • •
here was more drama than scoring in the overtime. One of the biggest plays was a missed layup by Michigan freshman Mitch McGary on a run-out following a steal. Wisconsin's Jared Berggren never gave up on the play and, by hustling, he put himself in a position to distract McGary.
"I tried to run past him (McGary) and not foul him,'' Berggren said. "I think I got a little piece of it (the ball) when he was coming. Apparently that was enough to throw him off a little.''
Berggren had taken advantage of McGary's aggressiveness to author what was the second biggest play of regulation. With the Badgers trailing, 57-54, he used a left-handed dribble to get past McGary in the circle and dunked on Trey Burke, who was called for a blocking foul. Berggren then completed the 3-point play by making the free throw, tying the game with 30 seconds remaining.
"I found a gap down the middle and finished the play,'' Berggren said.
| "I just wanted to thank all the fans," Bruesewitz said. "They gave us their heart and soul and we tried to do the same thing on the floor."
"It was a great dunk,'' Burke said.
Both would cross paths again on the final play of overtime after Brust nailed a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left to lift the Badgers to a 65-62 lead.
Brust's shot came at the end of an extended possession on which Brust missed from close range, Michigan's Nik Stauskas rebounded and Brust deflected the ball out-of-bounds off Stauskas for a Wolverines' turnover, only their seventh of the day. "I missed the layup that I should have made,'' Brust conceded, "but you have to move on to the next play.''
That's what Burke attempted to do after the Brust triple over LeVert ("I got some space and knocked it down,'' Brust said) but after running Jackson into a McGary screen, Burke was confronted by Berggren on his 3-point attempt. "I just tried to make it as difficult as possible,'' Berggren said. "I thought we did a pretty good job of making it a tough look and, fortunately, it rattled out for us.''
Jackson collected the rebound off Burke's miss, and that was the cue for the students to storm the floor. In an orderly fashion, they came from everywhere, too, including the first and second levels of the Kohl Center. Members of the UW football team had been honored at halftime and they also took part in the celebration. Bruesewitz literally ran into defensive tackle Beau Allen.
"Beau, what are you doing out here?'' Bruesewitz asked.
"Come here, I'm going to pick you up,'' he replied.
"So I found the biggest dude in the crowd,'' Bruesewitz said of the 330-pound Allen, "and I ended up getting on Beau Allen's shoulders, which was cool.''
Bruesewitz also ended up addressing the crowd after grabbing the public address announcer's microphone from the scorer's table, telling the arena, "I appreciate every one of you!"
"I just wanted to thank all the fans,'' he explained. "That was awesome. They make college basketball what it is. They were there early and they were loud. They gave us their heart and soul and we tried to do the same thing on the floor.''
Later, he confided, "It's still kind of mind-boggling that we get this many people to come watch us play a game that we love to play ... I just wanted to let them know how appreciative everybody in our locker room is of that. We really love all those screaming fans.''
It beats hearing crickets, he said with an impish grin.
• • • •
uring the post-game news conference, Bruesewitz was sporting a throwback Golden State basketball jersey, Chris Mullin's No. 17. It was probably only a coincidence but Hardaway's dad, Tim, made up "Run TMC'' with Mullin and Mitch Richmond on the Warriors. Bruesewitz voiced his respect for the Wolverines when he said, "That's one of the best teams in the country we beat today.''
He didn't get any arguments from his teammates. "Sometimes the basketball Gods are on your side,'' said Berggren, citing Brust's game-tying basket in what he labeled an "instant classic'' game. "But it also shows how much fight we have in this team. All those guys in the locker room are going to keep fighting until the very end.''
That was confirmed by Gasser, who's sitting out this season after undergoing knee surgery. "We don't win pretty, but we find a way to win,'' he said. "When things go bad, we move on real quickly and we put it behind us. We have a bunch of gritty guys; tough kids, who find ways to win.''
After bringing some context to Saturday's win over Michigan -- "It's something I'll remember forever and I'm sure a lot of people will'' -- Brust pointed out that "you have to believe at all times'' even when the "odds are against you.''
Brust had just stepped outside of the UW locker room where minutes earlier the players had been dancing and clapping along to Ke$ha and her "Die Young'' song which has become the anthem for this team. The Badgers are 3-0 since adopting the pop star's hit. It started during the pregame warm-up at Illinois, and it has spread to the Kohl Center. "She's killin' it right now,'' Brust said.
Especially when she sings, "That magic that we got nobody can touch (for sure).''