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February 22, 2012MADISON -- Like many aspects of sports, it's one of those things that is made into something bigger that it really is. But that does not entirely eliminate the significance.
Sure, the Badgers went to Iowa last year, when Ben Brust was a freshman. But he never saw the floor in that game. This year, he's averaging 8.2 points over 23.6 minutes per game.
Now that he's sure to be on the floor for at least half the game Thursday, there's a chance the Iowa fans may remind Brust of his decision to go to Madison over Iowa City. Brust really is not sure what to expect.
"I don't know, we'll see, right?" Brust answered when asked if he expected any razzing going down to the Iowa. "I'm excited. Last year, not much. But this year could be different."
Brust, an Illinois native, originally wanted to play for Bo Ryan, but the Badgers did not have a scholarship available for him after getting a verbal commitment from Vander Blue. That led Brust to choose, and commit to, Iowa.
But when Todd Lickliter was fired following the 2009-10 season, Brust decommitted. A spot opened up for Brust at Wisconsin when Blue backed out of his UW commitment and opted instead to sign with Marquette.
After he initially was not allowed to transfer to another Big Ten school, Wisconsin won its appeal, and Brust became a Badger, just as he had hoped all along.
Current Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery made an effort to keep Brust in black and gold, but to no avail.
"I actually talked to him a lot," Brust said. "He came to my house and I talked to him. Then when I decommitted, I still was interested, I still had a relationship with him. It just didn't work out. And I think he's doing a good job with them right now and we all went our separate ways."
Such decommit situations often lead to tension between the player and the school they choose to leave as well as between the two schools and the two head coaches.
Fortunately for everyone involved, and especially Brust, that certainly has not been the case in the two years since he made the decision.
"They respected everything and I appreciated that," Brust said. "I saw Coach McCaffery last time and I said 'Hi'. There's no hard feelings for me."
Brust started hot this season for the Badgers, reaching double figures in scoring five times during Wisconsin's first 10 games. That included a career-high 25 points in UW's win over UNLV, and Brust's 14 points in the season opener surpassed his season total of 10 as a freshman.
In 17 games since that 25-point outburst in which he went 7-for-7 from beyond the arc, Brust has scored 10 or more points just three times. He had been held scoreless in three of Wisconsin's last five games, going 3-for-14 from 3-point range in those contests.
Brust showed signs of perhaps rediscovering his shot in the Badgers' win Sunday over Penn State, as he went 2-for-4 from the perimeter after having hit just one 3-pointer in the previous four games.
If he could start to look more like the player that provided a spark for UW in the nonconference season, Brust could made a big impact down the stretch.
"We need all the weapons we can get," Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close said. "So if he can keep that up, it would be great. No question."
With the way Brust started to struggle, it would not have been a big surprise if it started to become more of a mental issue than a physical one for the sophomore guard.
As shots stopped falling, did Brust lose any confidence?
"He might've a little bit," Close said. "This is really his first full year at it and he'll go through slumps again. The question is how quickly he can get out of it, and can he do other things to compensate for maybe not knocking down outside shots.
"But it was good to see him knock some shots down. And I'm sure he like it as well, and hopefully that'll continue."
One of Brust's three double-figure scoring games during Big Ten play came against Iowa on Dec. 31, but it could also be argued that it was one of his worst games of the season. Brust was 3-of-4 inside, but made just one of his nine attempts from 3-point range.
Brust has attempted seven or more outside shots in a game just five times this season, and he missed eight of them in that game alone. Put another way, 10.25 percent of Brust's 78 missed 3-point attempts this season came in Wisconsin's loss to Iowa on New Year's Eve.
Was he pressing at all, playing against the team he nearly became a part of?
"I don't know, I just didn't make shots I could've made or normally make," Brust said. "[You] just try not to look at that at play within yourself and play within what the team's doing and ready to get out there on Thursday."