There’s been no big rah-rah speech from Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett about how important Wednesday night’s game against No. 8 Wisconsin could be to him, but forward Anthony Gill can sense it.

For Bennett, it’s a game against the team from his home state and the program where he started his college coaching career. After serving as an assistant under his dad, former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett, Tony went on to work under current Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.

Even if Gill’s motivations are different than Bennett’s, Gill gets it. At this stage, every game means a little something extra to Gill.

“It’ll mean a lot to Coach Bennett, so if it means a lot for Coach Bennett, it’s definitely going to mean a lot for us,” said Gill, who will help lead U.Va. (7-1) into the Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against Wisconsin at 7 p.m. in Charlottesville. “We’re going to go out there and play our hardest.”

Gill, a 6-foot-8 sophomore who is back on the floor after being away from the game for a year-and-a-half, hasn’t wasted any time making an immediate impression. He’s started half of U.Va.’s first eight games, averaging 10.4 points and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 68.8 percent from the floor in just less than 20 minutes per game.

Gill is looking to re-establish himself after sitting out a season per NCAA rules when he transferred from South Carolina to U.Va., but he’s already becoming a reliable fixture in Bennett’s frontcourt rotation — a frontcourt with a slew of options. Gill, senior forward Akil Mitchell, junior Darion Atkins and sophomore forwards Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte all should see starting time this season.

“It’s probably as much depth as I’ve had as a coach there in that frontcourt,” said Bennett, a native of Green Bay, Wisc. who played in college at Wisconsin-Green Bay. “They offer something different. All of them do.”

Bennett, who was an assistant coach at Wisconsin from 1999-2003, remembers the early days of coaching under Ryan in the ’01-02 season when Ryan first took the head-coaching job.

There were the “really hot sweaters” Bennett said he and the coaching staff broiled in sitting on the bench during Wisconsin’s first game under Ryan in November 2001 — a 74-69 loss at Nevada Las Vegas. Bennett also recalls how quickly Ryan’s system took hold at Wisconsin, as the Badgers went on to win Big Ten regular-season or tournament championships in each of Ryan’s first three seasons.

This season, Wisconsin (8-0) has proven its mettle with wins against quality opponents, including St. John’s, Saint Louis, West Virginia and Florida and a road win against Green Bay.

Wisconsin has five players averaging double figures in points, led by 7-foot forward Frank Kaminsky’s 15.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He scored a school single-game record 43 points on Nov. 19 in Wisconsin's 103-85 win against North Dakota. Forward Sam Dekker is adding 14.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

U.Va. is being paced by guard Joe Harris’ 12.4 and guard Malcolm Brogdon’s 10.8 points per game.

“I think this is one of (Ryan’s) better teams that I’ve seen,” said Bennett, whose Cavaliers won 60-54 last season at Wisconsin in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. “He’s had a lot of good ones, but they really play well together. There’s no one that you can say, ‘Well, we’ll just maybe sag off of this guy and not worry about him and help another guy.’ You’ve got to be sharp.”

Sharpness is exactly what Gill is trying to add to his game right now. He’s like a lot of first-year players under Bennett — trying to learn the ins and outs of Bennett’s defensive philosophy.

“It’s still a process every day just trying to get back into the flow of things,” Gill said. “Taking a whole year-and-a-half off is definitely tough.

“This year is really my first year being out there and understanding and anticipating where I’m supposed to be at all times on defense and stuff like that. That’s one of the things I’m really working on right now.”

Bennett, whose team is seeking a marquee non-conference win Wednesday after missing an opportunity Nov. 12 in a 59-56 home loss to No. 14 Virginia Commonwealth, sees some similarities in the development of Gill and Brogdon. Like Gill, Brogdon missed all of last season, but Brogdon sat out after having foot surgery.

“He’s an aggressive offensive player,” Bennett said of Gill. “He has a pretty good knack for drawing contact. He likes contact offensively, but he’s continuing to evolve defensively. I think he’s got to continue to get better in those areas.

“You can see at times where Malcolm and (Gill) both sat out last year. You saw that they both had ability and could help us, and you see their strengths at times, but I think you also see early this year where they missed playing competitively. It’s been a while. Their timing, reactions and instincts aren’t quite where they would be had they played last year, so that will get better.”

Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642.