CHARLOTTESVILLE — One by one, Virginia’s stars trudged into the film room that serves as a postgame interview area and shook their heads in disbelief Wednesday night. Recounting each missed layup brought about a grimace, parts of an offensive performance that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
The Cavaliers missed another opportunity to register a marquee nonconference victory, falling to No. 8 Wisconsin, 48-38, at John Paul Jones Arena in a defensive struggle as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It’s the fewest points Virginia has scored in a game since losing to Connecticut, 77-36, to open the 1993-94 season and the second-fewest tallied in the shot clock era.
The Cavaliers (7-2) finished the contest shooting just 23.4 percent — the fourth-worst percentage in school history — and it included a putrid 3 for 20 showing in the second half when the Badgers (9-0) went ahead by as many as 14 points. That, though, only told part of the story on a night when the winning team hit a season-low 28.8 percent of its shots.
Virginia had three different stretches of more than 8 minutes 43 seconds without a field goal, and ended the contest by being held without a basket over the final nine minutes of regulation. At one point midway through the second half, the Cavaliers had missed 22 of their previous 24 shot attempts.
“We have some warts as every team does and when all the guys go cold at once, it’s hard,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “There was nobody.”
Still, though, Virginia managed to claw its way back into striking distance when it upped the pace once the Badgers seemed to seize control in the later stages of the second half. The Cavaliers went on a 7-0 run and drew within 37-30 with just more than eight minutes remaining in regulation.
But with a chance to cut the lead further, sophomore Malcolm Brogdon knifed through the lane for what should’ve been a routine layin only to watch it spin out. It was one of countless easy scoring chances in which the Cavaliers failed to capitalize and Wisconsin went back up by double digits on a three-pointer from guard Josh Gasser (11 points), the lone player on either team to finish in double figures.
“It’s rare that a team plays like this altogether,” Brogdon said. “Usually one person is hitting shots.”
The game began as many predicted, with two of the nation’s top defensive teams slugging it out until the end of the shot clock on almost every possession. Virginia’s lone saving grace was Wisconsin’s inability to make anything at the other end of the floor.
Wisconsin, off to its best start since 1993-94 and the Big Ten’s best three-point shooting team, hit just 5 of 23 attempts from beyond the arc.
“There might have been more airballs shot in this game than, I think, any game,” Bennett said. “Both teams.”
Senior Joe Harris, sophomore Anthony Gill and Brogdon — Virginia’s three leading scorers entering Wednesday — went a combined 3 for 20 from the field. Harris, in particular, struggled mightily with Wisconsin packing its defense into the lane and forcing the Cavaliers to settle for long jump shots instead of feeding the post.
Harris went 1 for 10 from the floor and was held to just two points after scoring 22 when Virginia upset Wisconsin, 60-54, on the road in last year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Freshman London Perrantes led Virginia with eight points.