FORT MYERS, Florida — You know it’s going to be a good night when Carter Gilmore launches a snap with one hand.
Opening the Fort Myers Tip-Off on Monday, Wisconsin (3-2) scored an unexpected resounding victory against No. 24 Virginia (4-1), 65-41 in the semifinals.
Leading for nearly 39 minutes and never trailing, the Badgers closed the game on a 25-6 run. Having failed in their first two tests of the season against Tennessee and Providence, UW looked like the team, and then some, many expected it to be after returning 92 percent of its scoring from last season.
“Extremely happy for our players against a program and team that we have a tremendous amount of respect for,” the UW head coach said. Greg Gard said in his opening statement. “I thought our games tonight, especially in Providence, Tenn., prepared us better for tonight.
“Tonight I thought things were starting to come together as far as our vision.”
Here’s what we learned after Monday’s semi-final victory…
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Wisconsin played its best 40 minutes of the season
Wisconsin went down to Fort Myers without playing good ball. After battling Tennessee for about 37 minutes, the Badgers laid an egg in Providence on their next outing. Friday’s 78-68 win over Robert Morris was much closer than it should have been.
Facing a Virginia team that relies on much of the same principles, UW knew they had to bring their hard hats and lunch pails on Monday.
The Cavaliers missed a lot of good shots early, which played a role in their 32.6 percent shooting effort and fewest points scored since 2019, but they also credit the Badgers for cracking the code against one of the best defensive programs in the country.
The last times coach of Gard and UVA Tony Bennett we fought each other, it was ugly… really ugly. UW shot 40.3 percent from the field, made 8 of 18 from 3-point range and scored on 51 percent of its offensive drives.
The last time Virginia was beaten by 24 points or more? December 4, 2019, via a 69-40 loss to Purdue. Monday’s victory is also UW’s largest margin of victory over a ranked team since a 72-48 victory at No. 23 Ohio State on March 8, 2015. The 41 points allowed were also the Badgers’ weakest against a ranked opponent. ..Never.
After a slower start to 2023-24, UW made up some ground with an unexpected blowout.
“You can see the continuity,” Bennett said. “This team could have been an NCAA tournament team last year. They brought back most of their guys and added some nice pieces.
“I think Greg has a great team. They know how to play.”
Wisconsin attacked the offensive glass
Facing a much smaller Virginia team, Wisconsin did what it had to do: play bully ball. As Gard said Monday, physicality needs to be more of the team’s identity — an area that has been lacking in losses to Tennessee and Providence.
The Badgers set the tone on the offensive glass.
In the first seven minutes alone, UW had five offensive rebounds. The Badgers would finish with a game-high 20 offensive rebounds. That led to 12 second-chance points and three extra possessions. UW’s 20 offensive rebounds are a team high since he pulled down 21 offensive rebounds in an 89-66 win over Ohio State on Jan. 12, 2017.
Senior forward Tyler Wahl had seven of these offensive boards. Crowl was next with four.
In many ways, UW beat UVA at its own game.
“They’re physical,” Bennett said. “They’re a Big Ten team. We’re not exactly the biggest or thickest. They’re the most physical team we’ve faced so far.”
Badgers answered the bell after every Virginia run
There were a few moments where it looked like Virginia was going to come back strong.
After Wisconsin took a 38-28 lead into the locker room, the Cavaliers used an 8-2 run to get within 37-30 with less than 15 minutes to play. For the first time in the game, the UVA crowd got into it.
Their cheers quickly faded into silence.
Junior guard Max Klesmit buried a late 3-pointer to cut the lead to 10.
However, the Cavs weren’t done and had one last run. After a 5-0 spurt, the UVA crowd was on its feet again.
The Badgers responded with an 11-0 run, highlighted by a tip slam from Gilmore. Over the last 12:27, UW has outscored the Cavs 25-6.
Building on a seasoned, veteran team that has battled this season and won many close games in 2022-23, Gard didn’t bail out his team by calling a timeout.
“Sometimes they need to fight, rather than always bailing them out,” Gard said. “Sometimes, as a coach, the intuition is, ‘This group needs to figure it out. Let them feel a little bit of playing pressure rather than taking it off for them.’
“They responded well. It’s part of the growth of this group.”
Gard should consider intervening Steven Crowl after each match. Since Gard’s comments following the defeat against Providence, “Big Steve” constitutes a much more effective threat on the perimeter.
Recording his first double-double of the season and the fifth of his career, Crowl scored 15 points (7-10) and grabbed 10 rebounds in 28 minutes. Crowl also got the Badgers established early with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, one of eight for UW on the night.
“Steven CrowlI thought it was great, really good on the glass, and I finished strong on the glass,” Gard said.
Crowl also dished out two assists and had a block on Monday.
Beyond the box
1.182: Wisconsin averaged 1,182 points per possession.
3: Finish with 10 points, John Blackwell has now scored in double figures in three straight games.
5: UW pulled down five offensive rebounds in less than seven minutes to start the game.
5:07 p.m.: Virginia went 5:07 without a field goal at one point in the first half.
5:33 p.m.: UW went 5:33 without a field goal in the first half, but never relinquished the lead.
7: Crowl had seven of the first 10 points for the Badgers.
11: After the Cavaliers cut UW’s lead to 40-35 with 12:54 left, the Badgers responded with 11 straight points.
15: The Badgers missed 15 layup attempts Monday (9-24).
25: UW finished the game by outscoring Virginia 25-6 over the final 12:27.
28: UW’s +28 advantage on the glass is the team’s highest since its +32 in a 90-37 win over Florida A&M on Dec. 23, 2016.
38:53: The Badgers led for 38:53 and never trailed.
48: UW’s 48 rebounds are the team’s most since grabbing 50 in a 72-34 win over Green Bay on Nov. 12, 2021.
50.9: The Badgers scored on 50.9 percent of their possessions.