MADISON, Wis. - The Badgers will head into John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday night knowing what to expect out of the Virginia Cavaliers. Tony Bennett's teams are like the Badgers in a lot of ways: they can play at a deliberate pace, they focus on playing great defense and compete for rebounds.
That's essentially how the Cavaliers came in to the Kohl Center last year and eked out a 60-54 win over the Badgers, who have dominated non-conference teams at home in the past. It was a slow death for the Badgers that night: the Cavaliers held the Badgers to just 38.2 percent shooting from the floor, in addition to outrebounding them 2-to-1.
Virginia guard Joe Harris scored 22 points to lead all scorers, and the Cavaliers did most of their damage from within the arc. They made just four of their 12 3-point attempts in the game, and made 14 of their 17 free throws as well.
It was a very Wisconsin-like game from the Cavaliers, and UW assistant coach Greg Gard said in the end the Cavaliers just outplayed the Badgers at their own game.
"They made fewer mistakes than we did on the defensive end," Gard said Monday. "When you have teams that are in a slugfest those little things stand out. The team that [keeps] the other team off the glass [will win]. You've got to win the 50-50 battles, you've got to fight for the loose balls. They beat us for those- they got us that day."
But while the Badgers only need to look in a mirror to see the general style they're up against this week, the Virginia team they'll take on this year looks very different for a team that returns the majority of its roster from last season. Harris and forward Akil Mitchell are back, but the Cavaliers are rolling with three new starters, even though Darion Atkins and Teven Jones are still with the team.
Anthony Gill, a transfer from South Carolina, and Malcolm Brogdon, who sat out last year with a foot injury, are both set to start for the Cavaliers this season. Gill is currently shooting 68.8 percent from the floor so far this season, and Brogdon is averaging 10.8 points per game of his own. They're joined by London Perrantes, a true freshman guard who's averaging four assists per turnover.
It all adds up to a deep roster, since the Cavaliers have three of last year's starters listed as bench players this season. On top of that experience, Gard said Virginia is in good shape in Bennett's fifth year at the helm, because UVA's older players have been around long enough where they can help freshmen like Perrantes get into their comfort zone earlier in their careers.
"The guys that they got back have gotten better," Gard said. "They're deep, they're talented, they've bought in to what Tony's been talking about. Now in year five they've had it year after year so the culture is established. When you get that ingrained, it helps infuse those young guys a little faster."
"They're playing how you would think Tony's teams would play. They've got good players."
Time will tell if the Badgers will have more success against this incarnation of Virginia basketball than they did last year, but even with some inter-roster turnover the Cavaliers are likely going to make the Badgers earn every basket and rebound on Wednesday night.
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