Badgers outlast Cavaliers, 48-38
Dismal shooting performance dooms Virginia in loss against top-ten opponent
With two and a half minutes to go in Virginia’s Wednesday night game against No. 8 Wisconsin, the Cavaliers picked up a rebound and brought the ball down the court looking to start something — anything, really. Senior guard Joe Harris went to the rim for a layup and missed. Senior forward Akil Mitchell corralled the offensive rebound and went up for his own layup — it missed.
That seemed to be the story of the night for the Cavaliers. Shot after shot, the players found themselves looking at miss after miss, and nothing — inside shooting, outside shooting — seemed to be effective. Even in the midst of an impressive defensive performance, the abysmal shooting effort doomed Virginia (7-2) as they fell to the Badgers (9-0) 48-38.
“I thought we lost our composure a little bit,” coach Tony Bennett said. “We had some opportunities to finish and did not, but at times we kind of just put our head down and drove the pile, and it was too much. … When it mattered [Wisconsin was] just sounder or more poised, and made the plays.”
The stat line after the game told the tale. Virginia shot just 23.4 percent from the field — the fourth lowest tally in school history — and made just one field goal outside of the paint all game. There were two separate runs in the second half where the Cavaliers went nearly nine minutes without making a basket — the team shot 15 percent for the half. It was a total team dysfunction — no individual player shot better than 50 percent in the game.
“It’s rare that the team plays like this all together,” sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “Usually at least one person is hitting shots. Tonight we just weren’t clicking. We just need to be better.”
The team’s collapse was all the more worrying given its start. Virginia look good on offense early, jumping out to a 13-11 lead in the first seven minutes of the game. Freshman guard London Perrantes made the shot to put the Cavaliers ahead, and the team was shooting 6-for-10 at that point. Throughout the rest of the game, the team would shoot 5-for-37.
“We look at the quality of shots, and talked about trying to go inside,” Bennett said. “We were fairly patient. Sometimes guys got right in front of the rim. We tried to say ‘get to the line,’ but it seemed like nothing was working. We told them, ‘stay in there, don’t let down defensively, you will get a good look and get things going,’ but it just didn’t happen tonight.”
Virginia was down just 25-20 at halftime, but early on the in the second half, even a five-point lead seemed insurmountable. Despite holding Wisconsin to its lowest point total this season, the team’s consistent lack of a scoring threat made it impossible to fight back. Perrantes led the team in scoring with just eight points and hit the team’s singular 3-pointer in the first half.
Harris has had a knack for stepping up in big games — he had 19 points in the team’s early season loss to Virginia Commonwealth and famously had 36 points in Virginia’s upset against Duke last season. Wednesday, though, the guard looked flustered by the Wisconsin defense, scoring two points on 1-for-10 shooting. At times he looked to be trying too hard to create shots, barreling down the lane and picking up a charge late in the second half.
“He said, ‘my shots are not working so I am going to try to put my head down’ — and that wasn’t working,” Bennett said. “They were waiting for him in the lane and sealing every alley to the rim. They made him shoot a lot of contested shots. He was a bit out of sorts largely due to their defense, but I think he would agree that he was not where he needed to be.”
Harris pointed to the Badgers’ effective game plan in containing Virginia.
“Wisconsin … they just always seem to be in the right area, right positioning, they’re just very fundamentally sound and force you to take tough shots,” Harris said. “We’re shooting over the top, or always contesting, whether it be on the drive or the jump.”
Bennett and the players were obviously disappointed with the loss, but they were careful to put the game in context. Wisconsin came into Charlottesville a top-10 team, looking to pay the Cavaliers back for last year’s 60-54 loss in the same ACC-Big Ten challenge.
“I think that we got out toughed and outworked,” Harris said. “It was similar to what we did to them last year in Wisconsin, making it tough on them defensively, having them grind. They came in and did the exact same thing to us.”
Bennett served as an assistant under Badger coach Bo Ryan, and he recognized going into the game that the matchup was going to be difficult. Nothing more than a complete team effort was going to be sufficient to get a win, and the team’s effort Wednesday certainly did not merit a victory.
“I knew playing Wisconsin you are going to have to work to get stuff,” Bennett said. “They are going to be patient. They were more patient tonight than I have seen all year. Our defense was set and we made them work, but that are not going to beat themselves. We have some warts as every team does, and when all of the guys go cold at once it is hard.”
The loss was the team’s second this season to a ranked team, a trend that could cause concern. The Wisconsin game was the team’s last marquee non-conference game, and a win would have given the team a big boost in discussions later this season of a potential NCAA Tournament berth. The players, however, are hesitant to read too much into it.
“We have to face every opponent like that are a ranked team,” Mitchell said. “It was two good teams that we lost to, and two teams that we thought we should have beaten, but we just fell short so we now need to move on to the next one.”