CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. — In practice Sunday night, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team made it rain. Players were knocking down shots left and right, and head coach Greg Gard said that Brad Davison, who has been a hidden gem for UW this year, couldn’t miss.
Monday night at the John Paul Jones Arena, though, was a different story. The Badgers (3-4) missed more than two-thirds of their shots en route to a 37-49 loss in a slugfest against the No. 18 Virginia Cavaliers (7-0).
Davison, a freshman guard who was plugged into the starting lineup midway through the non-conference schedule, missed a wide open jumper at the top of the key 2:52 into the game. He would miss his next seven shots from the floor on his way to making just 2-of-10 field goals.
The Maple Grove, Minn., product had been on a tear to open the year, increasing his point total each game of his young career, culminating in a 19-point outburst against Milwaukee Friday. But Monday wasn’t his night.
“It's part of being a young player,” Gard said. “You're gonna have nights where you’re gonna go through [that] … Some of it's due to defense, some I thought he had some pretty good looks. But as long as they're good shots, you gotta keep shooting.”
Keep shooting he did, until his final layup attempt ended with a hard foul from Devon Hall that reaggravated a shoulder injury Davison suffered a few games back against Baylor. He would leave the game and get checked out by the medical staff, but returned to the court just 1:26 later.
With a 20-26 deficit heading into the locker room, nothing was going right for UW on the offensive end. Redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ had attempted just three shots, the Badgers had made just nine field goals as a team and they saw only 20 points on the scoreboard.
Happ burst out of the intermission and quickly collected six points on three shots. With 16:57 to play and the lead cut to 26-30, there was hope for UW. But when the Badgers looked up at the scoreboard seven minutes later, that 26 sat glaring at them next to the Motion W.
Time and again over that stretch, Wisconsin players found themselves open on the perimeter or at the rim and failed to convert.
“I thought we had some looks early that we needed to have go down,” Gard said. “That [would have been] able to change the scheme a little bit defensively. It makes them guard the whole floor instead of the half they commit to.”
Nestled comfortably in between the missed shots during UW’s drought were a handful of turnovers, uncharacteristic for a traditionally careful Badger team.
“I think coach said that we had 30 possessions in the second half and we had 10 turnovers,” sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice said. “So 33 percent of our possessions in the second half were turnovers, and that really hurts us when we're not getting as many possessions in these type of games.”
The combination of missed shots, turnovers and few possessions ultimately led to Wisconsin’s lowest scoring output in more than six years.
The Badgers played relatively well on the defensive end of the court, holding the Cavaliers to just 49 points on 58 possessions, but repeatedly failed to close possessions with a defensive rebound. UVA corralled 37.8 percent of its missed shots, well ahead of its season average of 24.8 percent.
“We gave up a good amount of offensive rebounds,” Happ said. “I think coach said there was only six points that ended up out of it, but it's just demoralizing to a team ... It just ate up more clock and gave us less time to come back.”
The loss leaves UW looking for answers, swimming in a sea of uncertainty in the face of Big Ten conference play. Happ said the team still isn’t sure who it is or what kind of team it is.
“This young team doesn't have an identity yet,” he said. “We played pretty well on defense, but it's gotta be an every-play type of thing ... It's gotta take 40 minutes of almost perfect basketball against these ranked teams.”
The Badgers get a few days of rest before hosting the Ohio State Buckeyes for the start of conference play Saturday at 4 p.m.