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Five takeaways from UVA basketball’s blowout win over Louisville

The ‘Hoos converted a 28-point halftime lead into an easy victory on the road.

Virginia v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers kept their recent run of wins going with a dominant performance against Louisville in the KFC Yum! Center. In a 17-point victory which wasn’t nearly as close as the final score appeared, the ‘Hoos held Louisville to only four first-half baskets and took a 28-point lead into the break. Ryan Dunn stole the show with his high-flying offense, scoring a career-high 19 points and dunking six times, and sharpshooters Isaac McKneely and Jake Groves each knocked down three triples in four attempts en route to a blowout victory. The team’s fourth straight win improved Virginia’s ACC record to 6-3, and the ‘Hoos now trail just Duke, UNC and Florida St. in the league standings.

Ball movement enough to pick apart a porous Louisville defense

Even as the shotmaking has come and gone this year, Virginia’s offensive strength has always been their ball movement and ball security: they’ve assisted on 63.7% of their made field goals this year, seventh in the country, and turn the ball over on just 13.7% of their possessions (10th). Against a Louisville defense which struggled to stay connected in their rotations, the ‘Hoos found good looks almost every time down the floor, especially in the first half with their typical lineups on the court.

UVA actually shot uncharacteristically poorly around the basket (just 4-13 on layups) and turned the ball over 11 times, but seven made dunks including six from Ryan Dunn along with a very solid 47% beyond the arc on 17 attempts kept the efficiency numbers up. They finished with 69 points and absolutely could have scored more if they hadn’t treated essentially the last 10 minutes of the game as garbage time. Performances like this are what you expect against a Louisville defense which ranks outside the top 250 nationally in terms of efficiency, but they’re still encouraging to watch. Hopefully seeing the ball go through the basket away from home helps role players like Jake Groves (3-4 from three) in the future.

Stifling first-half defense secured a win early for the ‘Hoos

Virginia’s defense won this game almost from the opening tip. They held Louisville to just one made shot in their half-court offense for the first 15 minutes of the game and nearly kept them in single digits for the entire half (a few late tough makes helped the Cardinals squeak their way to 13). While things picked up a bit in the second half for Louisville thanks mostly to an ability to get to the line and they finished with a respectable 52 points, during the competitive portion of the game they were unable to get anything going. The Cavaliers forced 18 turnovers and allowed just five assisted baskets all game.

As Tony Bennett always says, defense travels, and solid defensive performances have been key to Virginia quelling concerns about their ability to win on the road. A 20-5 run fueled by impact defensive plays helped the ‘Hoos turn it around in Atlanta against Georgia Tech, and their absolutely stifling start against Louisville essentially secured victory before the halftime buzzer even sounded. The level of competition isn’t great, but blowout road wins are blowout road wins no matter how you look at them.

The only blemish on an otherwise elite defensive performance was foul trouble across the board for UVA’s big men: Blake Buchanan finished with five fouls, and Jordan Minor and Jake Groves each picked up four. The Cardinals got to the line 24 times and made 19 free throws; that performance couldn’t salvage an otherwise putrid 36% from the field, but it’s certainly something Bennett won’t be pleased with. All things considered, though, it’s hard to be upset about a very strong defensive performance.

Louisville’s fall from grace only continues to get uglier

Virginia has always had Louisville’s number on the road under Tony Bennett, but the first half today was yet another new low for a program absolutely listless under Kenny Payne. Their 41-13 deficit at halftime was the worst for Louisville basketball since before World War II — and the most disappointing thing about that stat is that it wouldn’t be surprising to see that record broken this year by another strong ACC squad.

The Cardinals are 10-42 under Kenny Payne and on pace to finish last in the ACC for the second consecutive season. Even before considering all the other off-court weirdness around the program over the past two years, a program with the history, fanbase, and financial investment of Louisville should never fail to win 20 percent of its games — especially when some of those losses come against schools like Bellarmine, Wright St., and Chattanooga. It’s hard to believe that a program ranked #1 in the country within the past five seasons could fall from grace so quickly.

Ryan Dunn’s assertiveness stands out on offense

Lots of defenses this season have neglected to give much attention to Ryan Dunn as a blocker in the sides offense, a strategy which typically pays off as Dunn struggles to find good spots to receive the ball in the half-court. His scoring is typically limited to putbacks or transition finishes.

While it’s hard to tell how much of today’s performance was a result of Louisville’s defensive ineptitude, Dunn did a much better job finding space to slip behind his man for easy dunks including multiple sweet alley-oops. He also knocked down a midrange jumper and put a nice spin on his defender on the block for an easy dunk — signs of on-ball scoring ability that the sophomore hasn’t really flashed throughout the season. He finished with a career-best 19 points on 8-10 from the field and 3-4 from the line.

The numbers probably oversell Dunn’s improved performance a bit (for example, of his two made free throws one was unintentionally banked in and the other bounced up in the air off the back iron before falling through), but the improved confidence was obvious. At one point on a 2-on-1 break, Dunn attempted a one-hand slam over a Louisville guard which would’ve been the dunk of the season if it had gone in. That aggressiveness attacking the rim bodes well for UVA if it continues.

Virginia basketball’s improved form continues

This game had all the energy of a noon tipoff in a half-empty stadium televised on The CW and then descended into a Jamie Luckie foul fest for the entirety of the second half, but Virginia still deserves some credit for taking care of business in dominant fashion. KenPom’s projections only had the ‘Hoos winning this game by six points, and UVA led 43-11 at one point in the first half.

Sure, with an eye towards the NCAA tournament, it’s a little unfortunate that the Cavaliers weren’t able to really run up the score late and boost their predictive metrics; UVA actually lost the second half by 11 points, despite the game never really feeling close. It wouldn’t be the first time under Tony Bennett that his willingness to give his bench run in garbage time damaged the team’s metrics — who could forget Florida State full court pressing the Virginia walk-ons down 29 with less than four minutes remaining and going on a 16-0 run in 2019?

However, there’s no point in getting upset about this victory, a game Virginia took control of early and never really relinquished. For all the scoring Louisville did in the second half as Bennett gave his deep bench some run, they never cut the lead below 15 points. After a bumpy start to ACC play, Virginia’s strung together a nice four-game winning streak with a golden opportunity to make it five in a row at home against Notre Dame on Wednesday. The ship has officially been righted.