By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The basketball team that scored with such ease last weekend at the Corpus Christi Challenge failed to show for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
In a nationally televised game against No. 8 Wisconsin, UVa could not have looked much worse offensively. The unbeaten Badgers scored only 48 points — nearly 30 fewer than their average coming in — yet still won decisively before a stunned crowd of 11,142 at John Paul Jones Arena.
That’s because the Cavaliers, who were 50 for 97 from the floor in victories over SMU and Missouri State in Corpus Christi, struggled through a ghastly shooting performance in a 48-38 loss to Wisconsin.
Virginia made only 11 of 47 field-goal attempts Wednesday night. Its 23.4-percent shooting percentage was the fourth-lowest in school history. The Wahoos’ 38 points were their fewest since a 77-36 loss to Connecticut at University Hall on Nov. 29, 1993.
“I feel like you never see this type of performance coming,” said sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was 1 for 7 from the floor. “It’s rare that a team plays like this all together. Usually one person’s hitting shots. Tonight we just weren’t clicking.”
For the first time since Jan. 27, 2011, no Cavalier scored in double figures. The only UVa player to make at least half of his shots from the floor was junior big man Darion Atkins, who was 1 for 2. All-ACC guard Joe Harris was 1 for 10. All-ACC big man Akil Mitchell was 2 for 6, sophomore swingman Justin Anderson 0 for 4. You get the idea.
“We have some warts, as every team does,” fifth-year coach Tony Bennett said, “and when all the guys [go] cold at once, it’s hard. We’ve been able to have one guy step up at another time when Joe’s been off, or someone else has, and that wasn’t happening today.”
In his previous three games, Harris was a combined 16 for 19 from the floor. Against the Badgers (9-0), his lone field goal came about four minutes into the game.
“Credit to Wisconsin,” Harris said. “I thought they did a nice job defensively. It wasn’t like they overwhelm you with their defensive pressure or anything like that. I think that they are just very sound, and they seem to always be in the right position. They’re just fundamentally a very good defensive team.”
In last season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the `Hoos traveled to Madison, Wis., and upset the Badgers 60-54. Harris, Mitchell and Atkins combined for 47 points in that game. Freshman guard London Perrantes led Virginia with eight points Wednesday night.
“I think that we just got outtoughed and outworked,” Harris said. “Similar to what we did to them last year going into Wisconsin, just kind of making it tough on them defensively, having them grind to get tough shots on the offensive end.
“They came in and did the exact same thing to us at our place this year.”
At the Kohl Center, Frank Kaminsky had no points and no rebounds in three minutes against UVa. The 6-11 junior contributed nine points, a game-high 12 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals Wednesday night, and his length clearly bothered the Cavaliers inside.
The Badgers struggled offensively, too, shooting 28.8 percent from the floor, but they outrebounded UVa 40-34 and came up with more than their share of loose balls.
“We did not do a very good job of team defensive-rebounding,” Harris said, “just collectively getting back in and getting the ball, everybody making an effort to go get it. It’s just an area where they outworked us. You’re not going to win too many games when teams are coming up with all the 50/50 balls and outworking you and making all the hustle plays.”
At the break, the `Hoos trailed 25-20. Still, they knew it could have been worse.
“By no means were we going in at halftime and waving the white flag or thinking this was going to be a long night,” Harris said. “We were optimistic. We knew we did not play very well in the first half, and we were excited to come out and try and have a better effort offensively. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
That the Cavaliers were headed for a historically bad shooting night was not apparent early. To the delight of the home fans, a three-point play by Perrantes put Virginia ahead 13-11 with 13:08 remaining, and there was no reason to believe a crash was imminent. But nearly 10 minutes passed before UVa made another field goal.
That came on a hook shot by sophomore center Mike Tobey. Perrantes followed with a 3-pointer — the only one Virginia would make all night — that cut the Badgers’ lead to 21-20. But the Cavaliers wouldn’t make another field goal until 11:15 remained in the game, by which point Wisconsin’s lead had reached double digits.
UVa didn’t score in the second half until the 15:37 mark, when Atkins made 1 of 2 shots from the line.
“It was like there was a lid over the basket,” Mitchell said.
A 3-pointer by guard Ben Brust gave Wisconsin its largest lead (37-23) with 10:41 left. But the Cavaliers answered with seven straight points, awakening the crowd, and had a chance to pull closer when Brogdon saw an opening and drove to the basket with 7:30 to play. He missed his contested layup, but the 6-11 Tobey was in perfect position for the follow.
Alas, Tobey couldn’t convert, and the Badgers stretched their lead back to 12 before Virginia scored again.
“It was just a struggle,” Brogdon said.
UVa fought back again in the final minutes, pulling to 44-38, but the Badgers sealed the victory at the line.
“When it mattered, they were sounder, more poised and made the plays,” Bennett said, “and then whenever we got a chance to maybe get into a two-possession game, three-possession game, they’d get an offensive rebound or maybe we didn’t show on a ball screen.
“They did a good job [defensively]. They just kind of stayed down, stayed in front of us, made us make some plays over the top, and we had trouble doing that. Again, when you shoot those numbers from your perimeter guys, or just as a team, you’re not going to be able to win too many games.”
Bennett is a former Wisconsin assistant. His boss during his final two years in Madison was Bo Ryan, who picked up his 300th win with the Badgers on Wednesday night.
“They’re not going to beat themselves,” Bennett said. “I’ve sat on that bench too many times to know that.”
The Cavaliers can’t afford to feel sorry for themselves. Their next game figures to be a battle. At 5 p.m. Saturday, Virginia plays at Green Bay, where Bennett was a star guard for teams coached by his father, Dick. The Phoenix (4-2) hosted Wisconsin there Nov. 16, and the Badgers were fortunate to escape with a 69-66 victory.
“If we play like this against Wisconsin-Green Bay, we’ll get blown out,” Harris said Wednesday night. “We definitely can’t underestimate them. Wisconsin-Green Bay’s a tough team, they played Wisconsin very close and tough, and they have a lot of talent.
“Going into their place, it’s going to be a pretty raucous environment and atmosphere, with Coach Bennett coming back, but we’re looking forward to just learning from this game tonight” and getting ready for the Phoenix.
Brogdon said: “You don’t expect to come out here and play like that and not be able to put the ball in the hoop. But it happens, and we gotta bounce back.”
Harris is confident the Cavaliers will regain their form.
“It happened to be one of those games,” he said. “It was unfortunate on our end of things, but we know we can play a whole lot better, and even though this loss stings a lot and it’s tough and frustrating, I think it’s something we can learn from and we’ll definitely bounce back from.”