Bennett faces former mentor Ryan
Virginia hosts No. 8 Wisconsin Wednesday in ACC-Big Ten Challenge
When No. 8 Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan steps on the court at John Paul Jones Arena Wednesday to face coach Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers, he will be seeking his 300th win with the Badgers. But more than a decade ago, the two coaches shared the court in a different context, when Bennett coached under Ryan in his very first win.
Bennett’s father Dick served as Wisconsin’s (8-0) coach from 1995 to 2001, with Tony signing on as an assistant in 1999. When the elder Bennett retired in 2001, Tony remained on the staff as Ryan took over. After losing to UNLV to open the 2001 season, Ryan picked up his first win in Hawaii against Hawaii-Hilo.
“I remember wearing these really hot sweaters versus UNLV — we didn’t take suits for that trip,” Bennett said. “Going down there to Hilo, and playing … I remember [Ryan’s] system starting to take hold. We were running the swing, and I remember that game.”
That first season is still fresh in Bennett’s memory. The win in Hawaii was Ryan’s first, but Bennett points to another game — a win against Marquette in late December — as an important moment in Ryan’s tenure.
“We played Marquette at home in that first year, against a very good Marquette team, and really took it to them,” Bennett said. “I remember just hurting them in a bunch of different ways, and I thought that was a significant statement of how this program was going to be continually established and how we were going to play.”
The time under his father and Ryan has influenced Bennett’s coaching style at Virginia (7-1), including his use of the pack-line defense his father developed and used with the Badgers. Both teams have been known in recent years for their defensive prowess, locking down opponents and keeping them from making easy shots. Neither team is known for getting in shootouts — last year, Virginia won a 60-54 decision in Madison.
But this year’s Wisconsin team looks a bit different. The Badgers have already topped 80 points three times this season, including a 103-point effort in a Nov. 19 win against North Dakota. Seven-foot junior forward Frank Kaminsky had brought a scoring threat both down low and even outside — he has attempted 3.1 3-pointers a game on average, making 1.5 a game. Kaminsky made national headlines with 43 points against North Dakota, shooting 16-for-19 from the field.
“This year … all five guys on the offensive end are so skilled,” Bennett said. “They’re a heady team. When you have five guys, not just four — a lot of teams only have two or three — but they have all five who can step out and shoot the three, but they also can go inside.”
The challenge of guarding a versatile big man like Kaminsky — in addition to sophomore forward Sam Dekker, who is averaging 14.6 points per game — will be a challenge for Virginia’s frontcourt. Sophomore forward Anthony Gill got the start in Saturday’s win against Missouri State, and Bennett thinks he can do well against the Badgers.
“I think Anthony really has that ability when he gets going to get the ball, and if he has some pace, he can be a matchup problem,” Bennett said. “They’re playing a very good player at the four this year — Dekker — who can stretch it from three. He’s almost like a guard who can go outside … I think all of our guys will be challenged.”
Above all, Bennett sees Wisconsin as a smart team, with all of their players buying into Ryan’s system. Virginia will have to play a complete game to win.
“It’s a team that doesn’t beat themselves,” Bennett said. “You’re going to have to play well to be successful against them. I don’t even know what they’re ranked, but they’ve beat good teams this year. They play a style of basketball that is very sound, they share the ball, they play together defensively, and nothing but a very good performance will be enough against the caliber of team they are.”