On a night when 3-pointers and free throws proved scarce or non-existent, the Virginia basketball team got out the coveralls and dove into the paint. That turned out to be enough to take care of Wisconsin on Monday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Cavaliers outscored the Badgers by 16 points in the paint and that helped produce a 49-37 win that pushed UVA’s record to 7-0 for the third time in four seasons. The Hoos have won four straight ACC/Big Ten Challenge games as well with this one avenging the last loss, a 48-38 setback in 2013 against Wisconsin.
”You could tell it was going to be the type of game where you’ve just got to grind it,” Virginia senior Devon Hall said. ”Coach Bennett told us in the locker room before we went out, it’s going to be the type of game where you just have to grind it out.”
The Hoos needed paint buckets to get the victory because shots from elsewhere didn’t materialize. They finished the game 3-of-14 shooting (21.4%) from 3-point range and 23-60 overall (38.3%). Virginia didn’t earn a single free throw attempt in the game. The Wahoos did produce 14 offensive rebounds to gain extra possessions (12 more shot attempts than the visitors) that helped offset those concerns.
That put a premium on scoring inside the arc and more specifically the paint. UVA created chances at the ACC logo around the free throw line throughout the night as Wisconsin struggled for much of the first 25 minutes to prevent those lane touches.
Hall and sophomore Kyle Guy took advantage of that real estate. The duo combined for 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting (66.7%) inside the arc. Guy recorded 7-of-11 shooting inside the arc and added a 3-pointer among six long-range attempts to finish with 17 points, two rebounds, and two assists. Hall made 5 of 7 shots inside the arc and 2 of 3 3-pointers to post 16 points, one rebound, and two assists in just 20 minutes due to first-half foul trouble.
The Cavaliers picked up four points each from Jack Salt (eight rebounds), Ty Jerome (five rebounds), and Mamadi Diakite (five rebounds) to supplement that scoring.
Hall and Guy scored Virginia’s first 16 points in the game. They helped spark the game’s critical run as well. UVA led for the final 38:06, but Wisconsin had climbed to within four points at halftime, 24-20. The Hoos started the second half with a 16-6 burst, however, that left the Badgers swimming upstream the rest of the night and that’s not a good position to be in against Virginia. During the early second-half surge, Guy posted six points and an assist, while Hall added a bucket and two assists.
”We had to [touch the paint],” Bennett said. ”I thought Kyle and Devon offensively did a good job. We had some trouble missing some putbacks and some plays, but they were doing a good job of jamming it so we tried to open it up a little more with some angles of where we were passing from and where we were setting screens. You have to attack and get into that lane. Some ball screens were there too and some of the guys made some nice finishes and played off two feet. I thought Devon really looked good when he came to a two-foot stop, got balance, and then got his little floaters.”
For Guy, this game continued to show off how he is evolving on offense. After making just 39 shots inside the arc all of last season, he’s already put in 26 shots inside the 3-point line through seven games this season. He took just 14.6% of his shots a year ago at the rim, but has pushed that number up to 26.8% early this season.
In other words, as defenses tag him more and more as Virginia’s leading scorer at 16.0 points per game, he’s adapting to take advantage of that tighter tracking.
“I’ve always tried to be that way, especially in high school and my younger years,” Guy said. “Definitely last year it was a little more one-dimensional and that was just something that, as I’ve said a thousand times, I just tried to work on this summer and I think it’s starting to show.”
“Well, he’s constantly on the move. If you watch great shooters, they’re constantly [moving],” Badgers coach Greg Gard said. “As I told the team, he’ll try to hypnotize you with his play, lull you to sleep a little bit, but then bust off a screen. I thought we did a pretty good job for him to get 17 points but take 17 shots. We made him work. He made some tough ones. … Kyle is a good player. I watched him in AAU and high school. They do a good job getting him shots at the right time.”
The other key to Virginia’s win, as often is the case, came through the defense. UVA held Wisconsin to 31.3% shooting (15-48) in the game with just 15.0% shooting (3-20) from 3-point range. The Badgers didn’t make it to the line much either, hitting 4 of 7 free throws in the game. Throw in 14 turnovers with those meager shooting numbers and it turned out to be a rough night offensively.
The Hoos limited Wisconsin star forward Ethan Happ to only 10 shots as he tallied 14 points and eight rebounds. Only one other player reached double figures as D’Mitrik Trice added 10 points.
Happ faced a physical overall effort from Virginia. Jack Salt unsurprisingly led the charge in that category as he leaned on Happ throughout the night. The Cavaliers also sent numerous post traps Happ’s way, which made him uncomfortable at least at first and kept him away from the basket in one-on-one situations.
Isaiah Wilkins, fresh off NIT Season Tip-Off MVP honors, played a big role as the help defender or trapping defender for much of the night. He helped control the glass on both ends too with 10 rebounds, including seven on the defensive end.
“I think the bigs that played were the MVPs of the game,” Hall said. “Being able to hold Happ to 14 points and just try to lock him down and go post trap and keep him away from scoring, I think those guys did a heck of a job.”
“I thought it was terrific,” Bennett said. “I have so much respect for him as a player, watching him on film and the things that he does. I thought, individually, guys did a good job on him and then collectively, Jack was really aggressive, but you just need to make him earn everything. I thought it was a good sign that on that first time we trapped him. Ty came across the middle and got a jump ball, but with a player like that you just try to make him earn it all game long, and I thought the guys did a great job.”