"I think our guys were really ready for a battle," said Bennett. "They knew how they had to play with patience and toughness."
Turns out giving Wisconsin a dose of its own medicine was the right prescription.
In a game that featured similar programs, it was a late offensive surge, consistently good defense and junior guard Joe Harris scored a game-high 22 points to lead Virginia to a 60-54 upset over Wisconsin in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge Wednesday.
The loss is noteworthy on a number of aspects for Wisconsin (4-3). It's only the 16th home loss Wisconsin has suffered under Ryan in 12 years, only seven of which have come in nonconference play and just four against unranked foes.
Wisconsin's third loss in six games, however, had an all-too-familiar ring to it. Being out rebounded by 19 at Florida and giving up 13 offensive rebounds in the first-half to Creighton, Virginia grabbed 36 rebounds, including 10 off the double-double from Akil Mitchell, and limited Wisconsin to only 25.
"Those are just toughness plays we just didn't make tonight and have to get better at going forward," said senior forward Jared Berggren. "We just didn't execute as well as we needed to."
Akil Mitchell (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Darion Arkins (seven rebounds) also grabbed as many individual rebounds (18) as the six UW players who were credited with rebounds.
"(They) killed us," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "Those guys ought to get stars like we used to get in kindergarten when we did something right."
Wisconsin only gave up eight offensive rebounds, but all seemed to come at the most worst possible times, like when Harris grabbed his own miss, drew a foul from Mike Bruesewitz and converted a three-point play. Instead of Wisconsin cutting the lead back to signal digits, Virginia led by eight – its largest of the game – with 3:12 remaining.
"We really wanted them to earn their looks and kind of one-and-done them, limit them," said Bennett. "That's the stat that I am most pleased with is we kept them, for the most part, off the glass from what they've been doing. We were stingy on the defensive end and some guys made some plays, whether it was a second chance points or hit some buckets.
"You need that in this environment to come away with one."
The Cavaliers' sound defensive principles made Virginia look like Wisconsin in a stained blue jersey. Virginia held Wisconsin to 38.2 percent shooting, didn't give up any fast break points and held the Badgers to five free throws attempts. Wisconsin didn't attempt its first free throw until 5:39 remaining, and Bruesewitz did UW no favors by missing the front end of a bonus situation.
Instead of climbing to within three, Harris made two free throws on the other end to push the lead to seven with 58 seconds remaining.
"If we get to the rim stronger with the ball, we shoot a better percentage," said Ryan. "We did not do that. That has to be corrected … We just did not finish strong."
Wisconsin got a team-best 15 points from junior Ben Brust and Berggren added 12; the only two players to score for UW in the final 4:54. The Badgers shot 2-for-7 over that final stretch, as Virginia's defense never wilted each time Wisconsin made a move.
The prime example was Wisconsin's second-to-last possession. Down four and needing a quick score, Virginia's defense didn't let Wisconsin to penetrate to the basket, chipping off 27 seconds of game clock before sealing the win when Brust failed to get Harris to go for a ball fake and draw a foul on a 3-point attempt.
"That was probably the sweetest thing for me," said Bennett, "in a sense to win it on a good defensive stand at the end."
While the defense built the foundation for Virginia's win, it was its offensive burst that completed the project.
After Brust hit a 3-pointer to put Wisconsin up 36-31, the largest lead of the game, with 12:36 remaining, Bennett called for a 30 second timeout with the first-hand knowledge of what the Kohl Center can do to teams in that situation.
"I've seen a lot of teams just fold at that point in this environment," Bennett said.
It was a point well served, as Virginia went on a 15-2 run that turned into a 24-11 run following the 30 second timeout, scoring on eight straight and 10 of 11 possessions, and showed no signs of a team that had five different starting lineups through seven games and played four freshmen. One of those freshmen was Evan Nolte, who scored all eight of his points early in that run.
"It was 36-31 and then next thing you know, in the snap of a finger it was 36-36," said Brust. "Everything we had built for kind of went away."
With the three seniors in the frontcourt shooting a combined 11-for-27 and pulling in only nine rebounds, it's another tough learning lesson Wisconsin has to learn from with a stretch of games that's only going to get tougher.
"It's got to help us grow," said Berggren. "If we don't grow from this, it's going to be a long season.
"We've got to turn the page and really improve going forward."