CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- It wasn’t the offensive dominance it’s showcased so far this season, but Wisconsin managed to keep its undefeated record -- and secure Bo Ryan’s 300th win with the Badgers -- with a 48-38 victory over Virginia on Wednesday night.
The Badgers (9-0) entered the night averaging 76.8 points per game with a 48 percent field goal percentage and leading the Big Ten in shooting from behind the arc (43.6 percent). But inside John Paul Jones Arena against Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense, Wisconsin shot 28.8 percent and managed 5 of 23 shots from behind the arc (21.7 percent).
Wisconsin's leading scorer, redshirt junior Josh Gasser, scored 11 points -- the only player on either team to score in double figures.
Still, Wisconsin’s unusually low offensive numbers bested UVa’s poor field goal percentage (23.4 percent, fourth-lowest in school history) and three-point shooting (9.1 percent) -- the Wahoos managed one 3 the entire night -- in a deliberately paced battle between two defensive-minded teams. UVa’s 38 points were the lowest scored in the Tony Bennett era and second-fewest in the shot-clock era (since 1986). Their leading scorer on the night, Mike Tobey, managed seven points.
“They were more patient tonight than I have seen them all year,” Bennett said afterward of Wisconsin. “Our defense was set and we made them work, but they 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’s hard. Our depth was not what it has been so far.”
As Virginia started missing shots, the Cavalier players demonstrated their frustration at missed opportunities. After an offensive foul call against him in the first half, Darion Atkins went to the bench, visibly upset at himself. Toward the end of the first half, Tobey missed a shot under the basket and clapped his hands in frustration. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Wahoos managed only one basket before Tobey scored at the 11:13 mark, the crowd cheering in relief. UVa made only one shot outside of the paint the entire game.
But then Wisconsin, as it had throughout the night, answered at the other end when Ben Brust missed a 3-pointer, got the ball back, tried again and nailed his next 3-point attempt, giving Wisconsin a 37-23 lead, its largest lead of the night.
Coming off their victory in the Cancun Challenge Championship, the Badgers showed patience in moving the ball, rotating and finding a way to score in a game that had four ties and six lead changes. They often worked the shot clock down to the final five seconds, taking hurried shots under the basket or behind the arc.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, the Cavaliers went on a run, twice cutting the Badgers’ lead to seven points and then to five with less than two minutes to play. But Virginia’s offensive energy couldn’t hold, stymied by shots not falling and a solid Badgers defense. Wisconsin held the Cavaliers’ leading scorer on the season, Joe Harris, to two points -- 1-of-10 shooting -- in 33 minutes.
“[Joe Harris] is a great player. I just tried my best out there and not give him any easy looks and fight through screens,” said Gasser, who matched up against Harris.
Both defenses forced the other club into hurried shots as time expired (the cries of “air ball” continued throughout the night) yet Wisconsin remained steady, led by the strong inside presence of big men Frank Kaminsky and sophomore Sam Dekker, who was named to the preseason watch list for the 2013-14 Naismith Trophy and the Wooden Award Watch List. Kaminsky grabbed 12 rebounds, the only player on either team to total double figures in rebounding (both Kaminsky and Dekker were 0-for-4 from behind the arc), and Dekker was 4-for-4 from the stripe.
“It was frustrating offensively things just weren’t working for us out there,” said senior forward Akil Mitchell, who was one of the stars in UVa’s 60-54 win over the Badgers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge last year but managed five points on Wednesday. The Cavaliers’ most efficient offense came from the stripe, where they scored 15 points, shooting 78.9 percent, including 12-of-14 in the second half.
Like their other offensive stats, Wisconsin’s free throw shooting wasn’t indicative of its season averages thus far. The Badgers entered the night shooting 73.5 percent from the stripe but turned in a performance similar to last year’s average (63.4 percent), finishing the night at 65 percent.
The 86 combined points from both teams are the fewest in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game to date. Wisconsin’s low-scoring victory helped bring a little parity to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, where ACC teams dominated on Tuesday night. The teams are now 2-2 against each other all time, including a 1998 matchup when Tony Bennett's father, Dick Bennett, was Wisconsin's head coach.
“There are games sometimes, both ways, we both shot it poorly and not because we are inefficient offenses,” Ryan said. “Look at our offenses coming in and we played some pretty good teams. These kind of games happen and you just have to survive.”
The undefeated Badgers, off to their best start since the 1993-94 season, head back home to face Marquette this weekend, while Virginia will travel to Wisconsin to play Wisconsin-Green Bay.