Physical, experienced Wisconsin has its way with young UVA

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Tony Bennett knew coming into Monday night’s battle against Wisconsin that his unbeaten Virginia team was at a disadvantage.

The Badgers boasted size and experience that the Cavaliers couldn’t match, and the Big Ten opponent exposed weaknesses that Bennett was keenly aware of. Wisconsin improved to 3-2 on the season by dominating the glass and the paint in a 65-41 blowout of UVA in the Fort Myers Tip-Off.

Virginia will take on West Virginia (2-2), a 70-58 loser to SMU, in Wednesday’s consolation game (6 p.m., FS1), with Wisconsin meeting the Mustangs (4-1) in the championship game.

Wisconsin dominated in the paint, outrebounding the smaller Cavaliers, 48-21, on the night, including 20 offensive rebounds that led to 12 second-chance points. Virginia, which usually contains opponents’ inside scorers by trapping the post, couldn’t effectively handle Wisconsin’s size, something that Bennett expected after surviving a close win over a bigger Florida team.

“They took it to us,” Bennett said. “We weren’t as sharp defensively. You can tell they played Tennessee and Providence and their physicality bothered us on the offensive glass, and they played good defense.”

Virginia made only 1 of 12 field-goal attempts and missed seven-straight shots during one stretch in the first half, and trailed 28-18 at the break. Reece Beekman, who led the Cavaliers with 17 points and 7 assists, sparked a 13-5 UVA run midway through the second half as Virginia cut Wisconsin’s lead to five (40-35), but the Badgers answered, reeling off their own 11-0 run to open the game up. Wisconsin outscored Virginia, 25-6, over the final 12:27.

Badgers coach Greg Gard, who was once on the same Wisconsin staff with Bennett under his father, Dick Bennett, believed some early growing pains helped his team flex its muscles against UVA.

“They understand that was a good performance against a really good team,” Gard said. “But I told them, our schedule got us ready for this. As painful as [losses to] Tennessee and Providence were to go through … you don’t want to have to go through those. But sometimes you figure things out faster when you get your butt kicked.

We’re probably not in this position tonight if we don’t have those experiences. The guys have done a good job of taking those lessons and staying positive and trying to push to get better.”

That’s what Bennett hopes to glean from this lopsided loss.

“That’s a veteran team, most of those guys are experienced, and Reece, obviously, has experience, but everyone else is new and that certainly showed,” Bennett said. “We have to take a look at the film and figure out ways to get better. It was hard on both ends and you could just feel you’re going to have to be a lot sounder and tight on the defensive end to stay in this one.”

Bennett said he and his staff will study the film from this game and figure things out.

“It’s early in the year, so you learn from this, address some things, figure out who you’re playing and then try to be more ready for Wednesday,” the coach said.

Bennett said that Florida, while not as physical as Wisconsin, exposed Virginia’s lack of size and physicality, but that the Badgers took it to another level.

Freshman Blake Buchanan, at 6-foot-11, wasn’t the physical match for Wisconsin’s frontcourt and for the most part, UVA’s trapping the post was ineffective.

Virginia made only 32.6 percent of its shots (15 for 46) and was 4 of 14 from the 3-point arc, even though sharpshooter Isaac McKneely returned to action after missing a game with an ankle injury.

Wisconsin outscored UVA, 30-14, in the paint.

UVA’s 41 points were the lowest by a Cavaliers team since scoring 39 against Florida in the 2017 NCAA tournament. It was also the fewest points Wisconsin had given up against a major conference opponent since a 49-38 win over Marquette in 2014.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Gard said of the defensive effort. “I thought, even through the last couple games, we were getting better. There were little signs.”

Team Notes

Courtesy UVA Media Relations

  • Virginia’s 41 points were its lowest since 39 vs. Florida in the NCAA Tournament on March 18, 2017
  • UVA is 169-51 in non-conference action under Bennett
  • Reece Beekman sparked Virginia to a 5-0 run, but Wisconsin answered with an 11-0 run to take a 51-35 lead at 9:33 second half
  • Wisconsin started the second half on a 7-4 run to gain a 35-22 lead
  • Wisconsin led 28-18 at the half, limiting Virginia to 5 of 21 (23.8 percent) shooting
  • Virginia’s 18 first-half points marked a season low and fewest first-half points since scoring 17 in the 2022 NIT third round vs. St. Bonaventure
  • UW went on 13-3 run to gain an 18-7 lead
  • UVA forced two shot clock violations (4 in 2023-24)
  • Wisconsin out-rebounded Virginia 48-21

Series Notes

  • UVA is 4-3 all-time vs. Wisconsin
  • Tony Bennett holds a 3-2 record against the Badgers

Player Notes

  • Double Figure Scorers: Reece Beekman (17)
  • Beekman reached double figures for the 33rd time
  • Beekman scored 12 of his points in the second half
  • Ryan Dunn had seven stocks (two steals and career-high five blocks) to increase his team lead to 29 total stocks
  • Isaac McKneely (9 points) returned to action after missing the Texas Southern game with an ankle injury