Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: Bo Ryan lands 300th win, Badgers win slugfest in Charlottesville

No. 8 Wisconsin 48, Virginia 38

Playing four of six games on the road last night, the Big Ten finished the first night of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge with a 2-4 record. Tonight, four B1G squads enjoy a home court advantage, but not the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers, who headed to Charlottesville for a tough matchup against Tony Bennett's UVA squad. 

As Michigan fans know from the Wolverine basketball team's trip to John Paul Jones Arena two years ago, that is a tough place to play, especially against a team as defensively sound as the Cavaliers. Many people, including myself, have made this observation, but the Cavaliers would be a perfect fit in the Big Ten. 

Despite losing a trio of important frontcourt players, the Badgers have jumped out to an 8-0 record, the best start UW's had during the Bo Ryan era. 

Although the Badgers have shown an ability to push the pace this season in a way that can only be deemed uncharacteristic of your average Ryan team, tonight's game against UVA would assuredly be a stereotypical Big Ten slugfest, neither fast nor aesthetically pleasing. 

Predictably, the first half was just that, as the two squad found themselves tied at 16-all with six minutes to play in the first half.

Somehow, the Cavaliers were down just 19-15 with 3:38 to play in the half despite not having scored a field goal in almost 10 minutes. It was that sort of half for both teams. On several occasions, the Badgers' swing offense failed to generate anything, resulting in a last second of the shot clock airballed three. 

Even so, Frank Kaminsky came to play, as has usually been the case for him thus far this season. In the opening frame, Kaminsky scored seven points and hauled in nine rebounds. UW went into the half up 25-20, a lead that felt positively insurmountable.  

Then again, UVA had to feel good about being down by only five given that they didn't make a basket for 10 minutes. With that said, another half like that for the Cavs would mean one more win in the Big Ten's Challenge total. 

Naturally, neither team scored a point during the first three minutes of the second half. 

But, a slashing two from Sam Dekker in transition and a Ben Brust triple extended the UW lead to 10, 30-20. It seemed as if the Badgers were preparing to do the basketball equivalent of what they did in the second half against Michigan in the Big House back in 2010. 

Once again, the UVA offense failed at every level, this time starting the second half with a field goal drought lasting almost nine minutes. If you told me there was a lid on the rim at UVA's end of the floor, I'd likely believe you. 

Wisconsin's 37-23 lead with only 10 minutes or so remaining would be quite the wall for the Cavaliers to climb. UVA showed signs of life for perhaps the first time all game, rattling off a 7-0 run and energizing what had been a moribund crowd at times. 

The Badgers stayed cool. Brust drove to the rim for an easy layup on one possession, then Josh Gasser hit a triple from NBA range at the top of the key, pushing the lead back to 12 with 6:24 to go. 

Like the Michigan-Duke game last night, the Badgers didn't exactly play incredibly well; they tossed up their fair share of late shot clock airballs. With that said, the Cavaliers couldn't make shots in order to truly make it a game; I lost track of the number of missed UVA bunnies. 

A couple of Anthony Gill free throws cut the UVA deficit to six, 44-38, with 1:40 to play, but the Cavaliers just didn't have enough offensive juice to pull out the upset. Part of it was a result of UW's defense, but a lot of it was simply the Cavs not hitting shots. UVA finished an atrocious 11-for-49 from the field (22.4%). 

The game in a nutshell: Gasser was the contest's leading scorer with 11 points on 2-for-2 shooting (both from three). 

You might not be able to discern this with a glance at the box score, but was a convincing win for the Badgers, on the road, against a pretty solid UVA team in its own right. For all of the concerns about UW replacing most of its frontcourt production, the Badgers don't appear to have missed a beat; in fact, they look much better than last year. 

With the win, Big Ten gets a much needed Challenge win on the road, especially since every home team held serve last night. The conference is now down 5-4 as of this post (barring a late comeback by Northwestern at NC State), with Michigan State-UNC, Purdue-Boston College and Miami (FL)-Nebraska left to play. 

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