LINCOLN, Neb. — Ben Brust’s unabashed passion for NASCAR sometimes gets used against him.
Like when the junior guard for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team is spotlighted in the film room for going too fast with the ball in a game or practice.
“I’ve heard that I need to become the pace car a little more,” Brust said.
UW associate head coach Greg Gard put it this way earlier this week as the Badgers (10-4, 1-0 Big Ten) prepared to take on Nebraska (9-5, 0-1) this afternoon at the Devaney Center:
“There are times when you’re on the interstate, so to speak, and there are times when you’re in a residential neighborhood and you have to know when you can go faster,” Gard said. “Time and score of the game. Flow of game. Do we need a basket? Are we on a run? When is the time to slow things down and get a high-quality possession or make the other team guard?
“All those things come into play. He’s getting better and better at it.”
There are still times when Brust gets himself in trouble by dribbling into a crowd, but instances such as those are becoming less and less frequent in his first season as a starter.
Brust has an impressive 3.0 assist-to turnover ratio through 14 games and has just two games in which he finished with more than one turnover. Since turning over the ball over four times against California on Dec. 2, Brust has 28 assists and just five turnovers in the past six games.
“Sometimes when I exceed that (limit) and go too fast, I get myself in trouble, and it leads to turnovers or a bad decision and it leads to mental mistakes,” Brust said. “It’s trying to find that balance of going fast but not too fast.”
Brust found himself with nowhere to go after driving to the basket in the first half of UW’s 60-51 victory over Penn State on Thursday night at the Kohl Center. But once his penetration was cut off, he countered with a spin-back move and made a short jumper that gave the Badgers an 18-16 lead and was part of a 15-0 run that put them ahead for good.
That move is something UW works on in practice, but Gard was impressed that Brust had enough faith in it to use it in a game.
“To drill it and you work on it behind closed doors is one thing, but to be able to do it when it counts is another thing,” Gard said. “That’s good to be able to see that he’s put that deep enough in his repertoire that he trusts to pull it out during a game.”
Brust struggled with his shot against Penn State — he was 5 of 14 overall, 2 of 8 from 3-point range and 1 of 3 from the free throw line — but he had a solid all-around game with four assists, three rebounds, a block and a steal.
That’s becoming a common theme for Brust, who is second on the team in scoring (11.9) and rebounding (6.6) and leads the Badgers in assists (3.2), steals (1.4) and minutes (31.1).
While Brust’s defense isn’t where it needs to be — “He’s gotten better,” Gard said, “but he’s still got a ways to go” — his game has come a long way since he arrived at UW as a great spot-up shooter who was limited once he had to put the ball on the floor.
“I tell you what, I think he’s developed his overall game,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said of Brust, who has four double-doubles this season. “He’s not just a 3-point shooter anymore — and he’s extremely good at shooting 3s, and we’ve seen it all year long — but now he goes off the bounce a little bit.
“He made some good decisions. … Anytime he touched the paint, something good happened. He’s really evolving into a very nice player.
And he’s tough, he’s a tough kid. Let's not forget that intangible."