MADISON -- Virginia's showing in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge certainly felt like Big Ten conference play as the Cavaliers overcame the Wisconsin Badgers in a low-scoring 60-54 game Wednesday night at the Kohl Center.
Junior guard Joe Harris led Virginia (5-2) with 22 points, carrying an offense that shot 45.7 percent from the field despite a raucous 16,690 fans in attendance. The win moves the Cavaliers to 8-5 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and extends their winning streak in the tournament to three games. Virginia has also won four straight overall after a 1-2 start.
"I know how difficult it is, and I have so much respect for this program and for what [Wisconsin head coach Bo] Ryan has done," Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. "I really tried to prepare our guys that if they wanted any chance at this game, they would have to be so tough-minded and sustain their defensive possessions and be sound with the ball."
The Badgers (4-3), unable to find steady offensive production throughout the game, had a chance to draw within one point, trailing by two with 32 seconds remaining. But stout defense from the Cavaliers prevented any shot attempts until junior guard Ben Brust forced up a weak, contested attempt. Two subsequent free throws from junior forward Akil Mitchell sealed the game for Virginia. Mitchell led all players with 10 rebounds, and his 11 points handed him his third double-double of the season.
"Well, I made the wrong play," Brust said of Wisconsin's poor possession at the end. "I was open right away and then just got caught in no man's land a couple of times. I should've attacked, got fouled or score to stop the clock."
Wisconsin fell to 6-8 in the Challenge all-time, including a 5-7 mark under head coach Bo Ryan.
Offensively for the Badgers, Brust scored 11 second-half points to finish with a team-high 15, while senior forward/center Jared Berggren added 12 points after finishing the first half with just three.
"I thought we got some good looks," Ryan said. "I thought if we just could've just controlled the ball a little bit better when we were making our drives -- I think we didn't fight through contact the way you need to when you're playing in a grind game like that."
The Badgers managed to force the Cavaliers into 10 turnovers while having just five of their own, though an inability to reach the free throw on the other end limited Wisconsin's offense. Freshman forward Sam Dekker attempted Wisconsin's first free throw at the 5:39 mark, nailing two to trim Virginia's lead to 50-45. Wisconsin finished the game just 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. Dekker finished with five points off the bench.
The Cavaliers held a 24-23 halftime lead, thanks in large part to 11 first-half points from Harris. Sophomore forward Darion Atkins also added 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting and seven rebounds. Virginia also held a sizable lead on the glass, pulling down 36 rebounds to Wisconsin's 25.
"The way it worked out, there were so many opportunities where there were loose balls and it seemed like every time that we were close to getting a big stop, the ball would bounce off the rim, get tipped around and end up in their hands," Berggren said. "Those are just toughness plays that we didn't make tonight and we've got to get a lot better at going forward."