The University of Wisconsin Men’s Basketball team learned a lot about itself after playing three games in 48 hours at Imperial Arena in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
De’Andre Hunter and No. 4 Virginia took advantage of Wisconsin miscues in a 53-46 victory in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship.
Hunter, the tournament MVP, finished with 20 points as Virginia (6-0) built a 15 point halftime lead and held on to hand Wisconsin its first loss of the season.
Badgers Head Coach Greg Gard appreciated the toughness his team showed while clawing their way back into the game in the second half. But the 15 point halftime deficit felt like twice that much considering who they were playing.
“There’s no doubt that we were better in the second half than we were in the first, so that’s a step in the right direction from one 20 to the next 20,” Gard said. “But the problem is, with a low-possession game it’s a big hole to have to dig out of. You have to have almost everything go right offensively in the second half.”
Ethan Happ finished with another double-double, with 22 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, but he couldn’t get enough help from his teammates. The rest of the Badgers combined for 24 points on 10-of-29 shooting.
The Badgers (5-1) shot better from the field (43.8% to 37.0%), scored more points in the paint (32-22) and out rebounded UVA (33-31).
But the main factor that decided the game: UW had 13 turnovers in 58 possessions, Virginia had five turnovers in 58 possessions.
Happ finished with six turnovers for UW, which finished more than 20 percent of its 58 possessions without even attempting a shot.
“Coach already talked to us in the locker room about it and gave the example of in this tight of a game, you’d want to have 13 more possessions where you get a shot at the basket,” Happ said. “I had damn near half of them, so that’s going to be a lot of reflecting on when I should have done something different or when I should have just backed it out. Turnovers get magnified when Virginia and Wisconsin play.”
Virginia coach Tony Bennett made two changes to his starting lineup in order to matchup better with UW.
The first was inserting freshman point guard Kihei Clark — his first career start — to essentially attach himself to D’Mitrik Trice. After making seven 3-pointers and a career high 25 points against Oklahoma in the semi-finals, Trice was held to five points on 2-of-9 shooting by Clark and the Cavaliers.
The other change Bennett made was starting fifth-year senior Jack Salt at Center to deal with Happ in the paint. While Happ was chasing around Hunter on one end of the court, he was dealing with the physical play of the 232-pound Salt on the other end.
“It was just sort of a slugfest at the end,” Bennett said, “And I’m happy we were the last man standing.”
UW went on a 17-7 run in the first 10:14 of the second half to pull within 40-35 after a Trice free throw.
But Wisconsin went the next six possessions without scoring and Virginia was able to get the lead back to double digits.
Happ scored to cut it to 51-46 with 1:16 left and it appeared the Badgers forced a five second call. But no call was made and Kyle Guy made a free throw at the other end after Salt got an offensive rebound.
After Trice turned the ball over, Hunter made it a three possession game by making a free throw with 16.7 seconds left.
“Every basket you had to fight for,” Bennett said after his team shot 37 percent and 25.9 percent in the second half. “I think there was some fatigue on both teams, being the last game, but I think Wisconsin is really good. I think they’ve improved a lot. I think they’re very well coached, and I’m not just saying that because Greg’s a friend. I know what I see and they have very good players.”
Wisconsin, who trailed for only 10 minutes and 45 seconds of the 200 possible minutes the first five games of the season, never lead against Virginia.
That’s what Virginia does to teams, fortunately for the Badgers, they won’t see anything as good as that defense the rest of the regular season.
Despite the loss, I think it’s safe to say the Badgers are back. Very gritty and gutsy second half from Greg Gard’s group. It was a really good showing in the Bahamas against an excellent field.
Badgers next play on Tuesday against NC State at the Kohl Center in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.