With the focus of the night pinned heavily on Tony Bennett’s return to the Kohl Center and the victory that followed for the Virginia Cavaliers, Traevon Jackson grabbed his own headline just before tip-off, getting his first career start as point guard for Wisconsin Wednesday night.
Unfortunately for him, the Cavaliers ruined his welcoming party, as they topped the Badgers 60-54.
After faring well in his 28 minutes of playing time during Wisconsin’s (4-3) victory over Arkansas on the weekend, head coach Bo Ryan elected to start the sophomore Jackson over redshirt freshman George Marshall, who had started each game so far this season.
Entering the game, Jackson had one more turnover than Marshall, but was coming off a career-high 11 points against Arkansas. When asked about his decision making for a changing of the (point) guard against Virginia (5-2), Ryan needed just one word, citing Saturday’s game with the Razorbacks as evidence.
“Performance,” Ryan said. “That’s the way it should be in this world.”
Jackson followed through with a noteworthy performance in 32 minutes of play, trumping Marshall’s 11 minutes on the floor. Jackson matched a career-high with two steals and set a career-high with five assists. Although he enjoyed one of the better performances of his career, Jackson was shaky at times with the ball and missed open jumpers.
“I think Trae Jackson will be better, as a result of this,” Ryan said. “This is the first game this year where we were in this kind of a game … I think he learned some things.”
Wednesday’s game featured a pair of opponents renowned for playing robust man-to-man defense, which also played a factor in Jackson receiving nearly three times as many minutes as Marshall.
“[Trae] is stronger, and in this type of game he is stronger with the ball,” Ryan said before alluding to his defense. “Defensively, he ended up showing — against Creighton and Arkansas — that he was getting better, he’s a stronger young man.”
Jackson proved his strength offensively, performing his best when the game was at its closest as he dished out four assists in the second half. He was a catalyst for Wisconsin as it took its largest lead of the game with back-to-back three-pointers from Ben Brust and Sam Dekker midway through the second half, both coming off assists from Jackson.
Rebounding woes continue
Entering the game, Wisconsin had been out rebounded by an average of more than 12 rebounds per game in each of its losses this season. The train continued to chug along Wednesday night as the Cavaliers beat the Badgers on the boards, totaling a 36-25 advantage.
In a defensive battle where open shots became much of a rarity, Virginia forwards Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins controlled the glass for a majority of the game, grabbing 10 and seven rebounds, respectively.
“We worked hard on block outs, preparing for this,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said, noting that Wisconsin’s offensive sets helped them out a little. “They get spaced high and wide, so maybe they’re not quite on the glass as much … that was an emphasis of ours, to check and hold them if they’re coming, if not just gang rebound with five guys.”
Virginia also held Wisconsin’s senior frontcourt of Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren to a combined eight rebounds in 66 minutes on the floor. In fact, Evans was the only Badger to top five rebounds, grabbing six in the game. Berggren entered the game as Wisconsin’s second-leading rebounder, but was held to just two rebounds on the night.
Ryan said the rebounding differences in the frontcourt were pivotal in deciding the game, referring to the tenacity of Virginia’s Mitchell and Atkins.
“Those guys played extremely well,” Ryan said. “Sometimes you concentrate on certain things, but I think those guys just willed their team to win.”
Furthermore, junior guard Ben Brust, Wisconsin’s most consistent rebounder on the season, saw his average dip from 8.5 rebounds per game to 7.9 after grabbing just four in Wednesday’s game.
Brust entered the game leading both Wisconsin and the Big Ten in that department and holding him to less than half his average was key for the Cavaliers as opportunities refused to bounce his way.
Berggren pointed to rebounds and loose balls as a defining factor in the game. The game that seemed sure to be defensive and physical became exactly that and eventually turned on a Badgers’ missed rebound. After building a 36-31 lead, Wisconsin’s advantage quickly vanished.
“There was opportunity there, I think they got an offensive rebound and then they hit a three to tie it up,” Brust said. “[We] just have to finish the possession and get the rebound and maybe it’s a different story.”
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