CHARLOTTESVILLE — If you've seen the boxscore and/or clips — the word highlights does not apply — or, heaven forbid, endured the entire broadcast, the following will strike you as pure fiction.
Wisconsin was averaging 76.8 points and shooting 48.0 percent, with victories over the likes of St. John's, Florida, Green Bay, Saint Louis and West Virginia. Virginia was averaging 69.6 points and shooting 48.9 percent, with wins over Davidson, Southern Methodist and Missouri State.
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John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville
Not that anyone expected a Warriors-Thunder game to break out. After all, both programs are renowned for man-to-man defenses that slow the fastest opponents to a crawl. But a first-team-to-50 taffy pull didn't appear to be on the horizon either.
Except that it was, though neither team hit half-a-hundred.
In an eyesore that was as much about inept shooting as admirable defense, the eighth-ranked Badgers defeated the Cavaliers 48-38.
One player, Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser, scored in double-figures, and then just barely. He had 11 points.
Virginia's point total and shooting percentage (23.6) were its worst since a 77-36 loss to Connecticut in November 1993, a game in which the Cavaliers shot 22.6 percent. That U.Va. squad actually reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, and this team is equipped to do the same, or better.
But for at least one night, against a balanced, seasoned opponent that's been to the last 15 NCAA tournaments, Virginia (7-2) was helpless offensively.
"There were not a lot of easy looks out there," Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said.
"Even when we did get good looks, they were hurried," said his counterpart, Bo Ryan.
Don't buy it. There were plenty of open shots, inside and outside. But each defense got into the opponent's head.
How else to explain one tortured stretch in which Virginia missed 22 of 24 shots? How else to explain Wisconsin (9-0) shooting 28.8 percent, nearly 20 percent below its season norm?
"Nothing seemed like it was working," said Bennett, who conceded his team lost its composure "a little bit."
The Cavaliers' offense finally approached competent midway through the second half when a 7-point flurry slashed the Badgers' lead in half, to 37-30. When Sam Dekker missed a 3-pointer, Virginia had an opportunity to draw closer, but Malcolm Brogdon's layup and Mike Tobey's tip went begging.
That possession told the story. Two shots, both from point-blank, and neither connected.
On trying nights such as this, you hope your star can rescue you. But no one struggled more than Joe Harris, Virginia's first-team All-ACC wing.
Harris missed 9-of-10 shots including all four of his attempts from beyond the 3-point arc. He did not attempt a free throw, and even his normally solid defense faltered on occasion.
Bennett said that when Harris' jumper went AWOL, he began pressing with ill-advised drives toward the rim.
"They were waiting for him in the lane," Bennett added. "He was a bit out of sorts, largely due to their defense."
Harris, Darion Atkins and Akil Mitchell combined for 47 points in last year's 60-54 victory at Wisconsin. Wednesday they scored 10.
"When all the guys go cold at once, it's hard," Bennett said.
Virginia had made eight or more 3-pointers in its four previous games, shooting 51.4 percent from deep during that stretch, and after the Cavaliers made 8-of-12 against Hampton last month, I asked Bennett if he imagined this team capable of 38-40 percent 3-point shooting over the entire season.
"I don't think we're a lights-out shooting team," he said. "I think we can be solid. We can't live and die by the three. If we're shooting 25-30 threes a game, that's not our ticket. … When we go against better defenses, we'll find out … when people are a little longer, a little bigger. That'll be a challenge for us."
Well, Virginia subsequently played against better defenses in victories over Southern Methodist and Missouri State, making a combined 20-of-38 threes. But Wednesday they went 1-for-11.
"We know we can play a whole lot better," Harris said.
The Cavaliers certainly can't shoot much worse.