Normally the Wisconsin men’s basketball team (4-3 overall) thrives in tight, slug-it-out type games, but Wednesday, the Badgers were given a taste of their own medicine, falling to Virginia 60-54 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Virginia (5-2) played tough defense all night and was able to out-physical the Badgers en route to winning its third straight game in the Challenge.
Down 58-54 with 32 seconds left in the game, Virginia’s tough man-to-man defense forced the Badgers to waste precious seconds, resulting in junior guard Ben Brust trying to draw a foul on a long 3-pointer. The foul was not called and the shot fell well short.
The Cavaliers regained possession and Virginia junior guard Joe Harris sank two free throws to put the game on ice.
“I made the wrong play. It was open right away and then just caught it in no man’s land a couple of times,” Brust said. “I should’ve attacked, get fouled or scored and stopped the clock.”
After struggling to take a lead through the first half of the game, the Badgers pulled ahead 36-31 on a long 3-pointer by Brust, but the lead did not last long, as Virginia was able to answer with five quick points to tie the game back up.
“It was 36-31 and then next thing you, in the snap of a finger, it was 36-36,” Brust said. “Everything we built for kind of went away,” Brust said.
The Cavaliers went on a 24-11 run, which was keyed by Wisconsin-born freshman forward Evan Nolte, who scored all eight of his points during this stretch.
What set the tone for Virginia’s win, however, was the physical play of their big men—junior Akil Mitchell and sophomore Darion Atkins. The two were relentless in the paint and around the basket, combining for 25 points—15 of them coming in the second half. They also controlled the boards, pulling down a combined 17 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass.
“They didn’t do anything out of the ordinary or that we hadn’t seen before, but like I said before, they just kind of out-toughed us tonight,” senior center Jared Berggren said. “Those are two good players, two hungry kids who work hard and they got the best of us tonight.”
Leading the way for the Badgers was Brust with 15 points, but he shot just 6-16 from the floor. Brust’s struggles were emblematic of the team’s overall shooting woes as the stingy Virginia defense allowed Wisconsin to shoot just 38 percent from the field. Virginia also held Brust to just four rebounds on the night, his second-lowest output this season.
Virginia dominated the battle of the boards, outrebounding the Badgers by 11, 36-25. Virginia was also more physical in driving the ball to the basket, drawing 15 fouls on the Badgers, which led to 14 points off 17 free throw attempts. The Badgers only had five attempts from the line.
Despite the loss, the Badgers remain optimistic that a loss like this can better prepare the team for what lies ahead.
“It’s got to help us grow. If we don’t grow from this it’s going to be a long season,” Berggren said. “There’s a lot we can take from tonight and learn from.”
The Badgers will have three days to learn from this loss before they play their next opponent, an undefeated California Bears squad Sunday at the Kohl Center.