No. 4 Virginia beats No. 25 Wisconsin to win Atlantis title
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Fourth-ranked Virginia got another test like coach Tony Bennett wanted, and fittingly it came from a team with a style that looked awfully familiar.
Perhaps that’s why the Cavaliers handled everything that came their way — from fighting through their off-target shooting to tussling with a preseason All-American — well enough to win the Battle 4 Atlantis championship.
Virginia beat No. 25 Wisconsin 53-46 on Friday to claim the tournament title in a game that featured tough defense and plenty of clock-melting stretches that reduced the number of possessions, leading to a grind-it-out fight to the final horn.
That was just fine with Bennett, who has plenty of experienced players but deflected questions about his team’s experience before the tournament by focusing on the fact he’s only starting to blend in a few new additions.
Virginia (6-0) wasn’t tested much in its first three games. Now Bennett has an answer about how his players will respond in a close game: well enough to claim a Thanksgiving holiday tournament championship for sixth straight year.
“It was a test of our system and it really was a test individually of what our guys had in their minds and in their heart,” Bennett said. “We talked about refusing to yield, just trying to be that way. It’s kind of coach talk, but it’s true when you get in those spots. I kept trying to say, ‘I love being in this spot. Keep fighting, let’s see what we can do.'”
There was plenty for Bennett to feel good about this week, starting with tournament MVP De’Andre Hunter. The 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore was dominant for much of the three games in the Bahamas, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds against the Badgers.
Beyond that, the Cavaliers followed their tough semifinal win against Dayton with a strong first half against Wisconsin (5-1) to build a 33-18 halftime lead. Then they were tough enough to hold off the Badgers despite shooting just 26 percent in the second half.
That included going just 2 for 16 out of the locker room, a stat that drew a chuckle from junior guard Ty Jerome.
“I guess it’s funny now because we won,” Jerome said, “but like (Bennett) said, it’s a testament to our defense, our fight and where we are right now in a season. I think we understood who we have to be today.”
That included finding ways to frustrate preseason Associated Press All-American Ethan Happ.
The 6-10 senior had a nice stat line with 22 points, 15 rebounds and six assists for Wisconsin, which shot 52 percent after halftime to cut into the deficit. But he also had six of the Badgers’ 13 turnovers, sometimes from Virginia guards helping inside to poke the ball away from him.
And that was just too many considering Wisconsin got just 59 possessions. The Badgers got as close as five four separate times in the second half, but could never overtake the Cavaliers.
“Tony’s got a good team, there’s no doubt,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “That’s an experienced, very well-prepared, very sound team that’s a great test for us early in the year.”
The tournament wraps up Friday night with Middle Tennessee facing Stanford in the seventh-place game and Butler meeting Florida for fifth.
OKLAHOMA 65, DAYTON 54
Christian James scored 21 points to secure a place on the five-man all-tournament team in the Sooners’ win in the third-place game.
Jamuni McNeace added 16 points and eight rebounds for Oklahoma (5-1), while Miles Reynolds also went 6 for 6 at the line in the final 34 seconds to stay in control.
Oklahoma led 9-0 and 26-12 in this one, only to squander the lead and fall behind 41-34 when the Flyers opened the second half on a 13-0 run. But Oklahoma regrouped, and James hit a pair of big 3-pointers and a driving layup during one key sequence in the final five minutes.
“Sometimes you’ve got a team where you know which guys every night are going to be consistent producers,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “This is going to be a group that’s different guys on different nights. … Still, I like the pieces.”
Jalen Crutcher scored 14 points for Dayton (4-2), which shot just 32 percent for the game.