basketball

Transition Buckets Key Against Virginia’s Stout Defense

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In four games against Virginia since joining the ACC, senior guard Steve Vasturia and Notre Dame have just two combined fast-break points.
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Notre Dame wants to get out and run Tuesday night against Virginia. The Cavaliers will do everything in their power to stop that from happening.

It’s another contrast in styles when the 14th-ranked Irish host No. 12 Virginia on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion, a game that pits the Cavaliers’ pack-line defense against high-scoring Notre Dame.

“This will be everything we’ve got,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said this week. “There’s no easing your way into this one, you’re going to have to be ready. They can go on runs that are very impressive offensively.”

Notre Dame is averaging 81.2 points per game this season, which ranks 39th nationally. The Cavs, meanwhile, allow just 53.2 points per game, which ranks first in the nation.

A major part of UVA’s defense success is limiting the opposition’s transition chances. In the four ACC matchups with the Cavaliers, Notre Dame has just two fast-break points.

The Irish are 0-4 in those games.

“I’m going to talk a lot about our defense again, just like I did before the Syracuse game,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said, “and see if we can keep them to one-and-done, because then we can get it to Matt [Farrell] and we can run and get some easy buckets and you don’t have to play against that set defense.”

Notre Dame has been at its best this season with Farrell, the junior point guard, pushing the pace and getting out in transition after defensive stops.

The Irish pace is also much quicker this season with Farrell at the helm. Already Notre Dame has nine games with 70-plus possessions, up from the six it played all of last season. According to KenPom.com, Notre Dame’s average possession length is 18.3 seconds, down nearly a whole second from last season (19.2).

“It’s a result of our defense that we can get more stops and it’s a result of Matt really being able to push it,” Brey said. “T.J. Gibbs does, too, but Matt really makes us go. He forces it. It’s a little bit like when we put him in the lineup against NC State the last home game last year, all of a sudden we started running again.

“This group’s able to get more one-and-done things, so you have more running opportunities.”

Notre Dame’s players are well aware for the need to get out and run Tuesday rather than do its scoring against the stout Virginia defense.

“We have to be able to get those stops so we can get out in transition and find different ways to score rather than just getting frustrated,” senior guard Steve Vasturia said.

That starts with getting clean rebounds — Notre Dame is 151st in the country in rebounding margin (+1.7) while Virginia is 71st (+4.2) — and deflections.

“Defending and getting clean rebounds and getting steals, it can just get us out in transition and keep them from setting up their defense,” senior wing V.J. Beachem said. “As everybody knows, their set defense is really hard to score against. If we can get out in transition and get some easy ones, that would definitely help us out.”

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