MADISON, Wis. — The last few weeks were frustrating for Wisconsin guard Ben Brust.
Through the Badgers’ first 17 games, the 6-foot-1 senior was averaging 13.1 points and shooting 43 percent from the field, including 38.3 percent (44-for-115) from 3-point range.
Just like that, Brust’s shots stopped falling — right as Wisconsin fell into a rut, losing five of six after opening the season 16-0.
Starting with Wisconsin’s loss at Minnesota on Jan. 18, Brust shot 38 percent over the next six games and made just 10 of 40 3-point attempts.
He finally snapped out of it Thursday, making all four of his long-distance attempts and finishing with 20 points as No. 21 Wisconsin beat Minnesota 78-70 at the Kohl Center.
Brust’s third 3-pointer, with less than a minute left in the first half, gave Wisconsin a 34-25 lead.
“They felt how they’ve normally felt my whole career,” Brust said. “But it definitely felt good to see the first one go down tonight. It’s never a bad thing to make all the ones you take.”
Brust finished one point shy of tying his season high. He made five of seven shots from the floor overall also grabbed six rebounds.
“He shot it well,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “There are still some things defensively he’s got to shore up for us to be better, but he did shoot it well.”
Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky went 9-for-9 from the free-throw line and finished with 17 points.
Badgers freshman forward Nigel Hayes had another big game, scoring 15 on 5-of-7 shooting. He is averaging 10.9 points and shooting percent 59.5 percent (44-of-74) from the field in 12 Big Ten games.
“He’s been the catalyst,” said Ryan, whose team earned its third win in a row, with Hayes scoring a combined 43 in those contests.
The Badgers shot 48.8 percent (21 of 43) from the floor and hit six of 15 3-point tries, but their biggest advantage came at the free-throw line. Wisconsin made 30 of 36 foul shots. Minnesota got to the line just 20 times and made 15.
“When you allow them to score 30 points from the free-throw line, you’re not going to win on the road,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said.
Unlike the first meeting, when Minnesota shot 59 percent from the field in a 77-70 victory, the Gophers shot 45.1 percent (23 of 51) Thursday and committed 13 turnovers. However, they did sank nine of 17 3-point attempts in the rematch.
“(The Badgers) did a great job adjusting to the things we hurt them with the first time,” Pitino said. “They did a great job not allowing us to throw the ball into the post, and we really had our way with that (in the first meeting).
“They just did a great job adjusting.”
Guard Andre Hollins made six of 12 shots and four of six 3-pointers to lead the Gophers with 22 points. Guard Malik Smith added 14 for Minnesota, which got within five on Hollins’ 3-pointer with 1:20 left but couldn’t get over the hump. Minnesota (16-9, 5-7 Big Ten) lost for the fourth time in five games.
“The energy was there,” Hollins said. “There was just a drop off defensively.”
Wisconsin (20-5, 7-5) struggled early, making just three of 11 shots to open the game. Minnesota started 5-for-9 and made two 3-pointers to take a 14-9 lead.
The Badgers tied it on two free throws by Kaminsky, part of a 11-1 run that gave Wisconsin an 18-15 lead after Hayes’ steal-and-dunk.
Guard Josh Gasser, forward Sam Dekker and Brust extended the lead with 3-pointers, and Wisconsin went into the break up 35-28 after Minnesota guard Daquein McNeil sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
NOTES: The Badgers reached 20 wins for the 11th time in coach Bo Ryan’s 13 seasons in Madison. Wisconsin won at least 20 games for the eighth consecutive season, the second-longest streak in the Big Ten. Ohio State is one win away from its 10th consecutive 20-victory season. … Minnesota lost for the 16th time in its past 17 games in Madison. The Gophers’ only victory at the Kohl Center came during the 2008-09 season, which was also the last time Minnesota swept the season series.
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