By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Three days after upsetting Wisconsin at the Kohl Center in Madison last season, the UVa men’s basketball team, back home in Charlottesville, defeated the Green Bay Phoenix at John Paul Jones Arena.
The rematches did not go as well for Virginia this season. Three days after losing to Wisconsin in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at JPJ, the Cavaliers fell 75-72 to Green Bay at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon, Wis., on Saturday.
“This Wisconsin Week wasn’t as good as last year’s Wisconsin Week for us, that’s for sure,” UVa head coach Tony Bennett told reporters afterward, “but hopefully we’ll learn from it.”
UVa, down 13 points with 16 minutes left, clawed back into the game. With 1:49 left, sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon’s third 3-pointer pulled the Wahoos to 69-69, and it appeared they might escape with a victory. But the Phoenix answered with four straight points, the second basket coming after a Brogdon turnover in the backcourt.
Sophomore swingman Justin Anderson’s trey with 58 seconds to play made it 73-72, and the Cavaliers got the ball back about 25 seconds later after a Green Bay miss. But senior guard Joe Harris’ 3-point attempt was off the mark, and Green Bay’s star guard, Keifer Sykes, buried two free throws to make it 75-72 with 8.7 seconds left.
Bennett called a timeout to set up a final play, and Anderson got a good look from the top of the key. But his 3-point attempt missed, and the Cavaliers were left to lament their flawed performance in their first true road game of the season.
“To fight like we did [is good], but there’s got to be some execution and some smarts down the stretch, and when you don’t do that, it stings,” Bennett told Ted Jeffries, the color analyst on UVa’s radio broadcasts. “We knew they’d be good in this environment, and our guys hopefully will learn and grow from it. But eventually we gotta to try to finish one of these down the stretch.”
For Bennett, the game capped an emotional week. He’s a former assistant at Wisconsin, where his first boss was his father, Dick. His ties to Green Bay are even stronger. Bennett grew up in the town and played for his father at what was then called Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Bennett is still the Phoenix’s all-time leader in points (2,285) and assists (601). His alma mater retired his No. 25 jersey on Feb. 18, 1995, and welcomed him back to Green Bay with a pregame video at the arena.
“I’m so thankful for my time here,” said Bennett, who received a standing ovation from fans at the Resch Center before tipoff.
He was also anxious as the game approached. Bennett knew the Wahoos (7-3) would be tested by the Phoenix (5-2), which was picked to win the Horizon League and nearly upset Wisconsin on Nov. 16.
“This is the best team they’ve had in many, many years,” Bennett said before the game, and that wasn’t coachspeak.
The Phoenix jumped on UVa early. Green Bay shot 56 percent from the floor in the first half and led 37-31 at the break.
The `Hoos turned the ball over 11 times in the first 20 minutes. To make matters worse for UVa, Harris spent most of the half on the bench after picking up two early fouls.
“I think we came out and weren’t as alert or attentive as we needed to be and got down quick in the first half,” Brogdon told Jeffries.
Inept offensively Wednesday night in its 48-38 loss to No. 8 Wisconsin, Virginia shot the ball much better against Green Bay, making 23 of 46 field-goal attempts. But the Cavaliers’ defense was uncharacteristically porous for much of the game.
Green Bay shot 51 percent from the floor, including a 7-for-14 effort from 3-point range.
“We just couldn’t get a key stop when we needed it,” Bennett told Jeffries. “Defensively, it was not one of our better efforts.”
Greg Mays, a 6-9 junior, had his way with UVa’s big men and finished with a game-high 24 points. Sykes, a 5-11 senior, added 21 points and 10 assists.
“He’s very good,” Brogdon said. “Possibly the best guard we’ve played. He really does it all. He’s the motor for their team.”
Brogdon led UVa with 17 points, which tied his career high, and pulled down a team-high six rebounds. But what stuck out to him were his two turnovers, especially the one in the final 80 seconds.
“It’s just a struggle when you make that mistake, when your team’s making a run,” Brogdon said, “but I’m going to learn from it and try to keep getting better.”
Bennett was happy to see his team get back on track offensively, “so I’ll take some positives out of it,” he told Jeffries, “but you and I both know, if you can’t get stops at this level, we’re going to be having this conversation a lot, and so we need to get a little better down the stretch.”
Final exams start Monday at UVa. The Cavaliers don’t play again until Dec. 21, when Northern Iowa visits JPJ.
Game Notes: Virginia (7-3) is 2-1 all-time vs. Green Bay and 3-1 all-time vs. Horizon League opponents. Virginia allowed season-highs in points (75) and field goal percentage (51%). UVa had five players reach double figures in scoring (Brogdon, Harris, Gill, Mitchell and Anderson) for the first time since Nov. 20, 2012 (North Texas). Joe Harris (1,368 pts) moved into sole possession of 23rd place on Virginia’s career scoring list, passing Elton Brown (1,356 pts, 2002-05)