The college basketball season was only three days old when San Francisco pulled off an upset that could go down as one of the most surprising results of the 2020-21 season. Two days after losing to UMass Lowell in its season opener, San Francisco upset No. 4 Virginia 61-60 in Bubbleville after Virginia forward Sam Hauser's potential game-winning 3-pointer was off the mark in the closing seconds.
Here's how the Dons pulled off the victory.
A huge 3-point shooting disparity
If you want a 10,000-foot synopsis of how San Francisco beat Virginia by one, just look at the 3-point shooting gap between the two squads. The Dons were 13-for-28 (46.4 percent) from three, while the Cavaliers were just 3-for-13 (23.1 percent).
San Francisco played a lot of five-out offense, where the Dons would frequently and intentionally leave the middle of the floor open. This allowed the Dons to spread out the Cavaliers's pack-line defense and prevent help-side defense on drives. If Virginia's defense offered help-side defense, then San Francisco could swing the ball to the open player on the wing whose defender just vacated the area.
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The Dons were creative with their big men, showing a variety of screen and rolls, slip screens (when a player pretends to set a screen but instead cuts hard to the basket), and roll and replace (where a wing player follows the screen-setter and offers an outlet off of a secondary action).
Most importantly, San Francisco's bigs were able to hit open and contested 3-pointers. Forwards Josh Kunen (2-for-2 from three), Taavi Jurkataam (2-for-4) and Dzmitry Ryuny (3-for-10) combined for seven of the team's 13 3-pointers, and they forced Virginia to defend the entire floor.
The Dons played the 'Hoos to a draw on the defensive glass
Offensive rebounds were a fairly rare commodity in the game. San Francisco grabbed 26 defensive rebounds off of 30 missed shots for Virginia (an 86.7 defensive rebounding percentage), while Virginia had 31 defensive boards on 35 missed shots from San Francisco (an 88.6 defensive rebounding percentage).
A potential downside of playing a five-out or a four-around-one offense like San Francisco is that the opposing defense will often have the inside position for rebounds, so while the Dons had few second-chance scoring opportunities, they put the clamps on such opportunities for the Cavaliers, too.
Limiting Virginia's ball movement on offense
Down the stretch, Virginia's offense appeared stagnant at times. The Cavaliers finished with five assists on 21 made baskets, which marks an assist rate of just 23.8 percent. Virginia point guard Kihei Clark only had two assists compared to three turnovers.
After a 9-0 run from Virginia made it 37-32, San Francisco outscored Virginia 29-13 in the final 11-plus minutes to pull off the one-point win.