CHARLOTTESVILLE, JAN. 5 -- Yes, it is early, far too early to call any game in January a key game. But today Virginia sent a loud-and-clear message to its Atlantic Coast Conference foes that it has to be taken seriously.

The 18th-ranked Cavaliers gave No. 8 Duke a good, old-fashioned whipping from start to finish in routing the Blue Devils, 81-64, in an ACC opener before a sellout crowd of 8,864 at University Hall.

In winning its seventh consecutive game and second straight over Duke, the Cavaliers (9-2) got wonderful efforts from guards Anthony Oliver (season-high 21 points and six steals) and John Crotty (16 points, seven assists). Bryant Stith, held to four points in the first 20 minutes, scored 16 after intermission, and Kenny Turner finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 6 steals.

Duke's Christian Laettner scored 27 points and collected 10 rebounds.

The 6-foot-10 Laettner did his best to keep his team in the game, but it became obvious early his teammates would be no help. Sticking with a man-to-man defense, Virginia scrapped for every rebound, contested every shot and pass and made Duke's visit a nightmarish one. Duke shot 38 percent from the field and committed an uncharacteristic 24 turnovers.

"We played great team defense," said Oliver. "We went after all the loose balls and jumped on them from the beginning of the game, caught them off guard. Duke thought they would just show up and win. We were very, very ready to play."

Sparked by its defense and timely baskets by Oliver, Virginia scored 11 straight points to take a 15-4 lead with 13:55 left.

Laettner had 14 of his team's first 22 points but his effort served only to push the confident Cavaliers to another level. While Duke was going without a field goal for 4:26, 3:29 and 4:18 stretches in the first half, Oliver, Stith, Crotty and Turner took turns scoring on driving baskets or short jump shots. A steal and layin by Crotty and a 16-foot basket by Dirk Katstra pushed the lead to 38-22 with a little more than three minutes left in the half.

"We spread them out on offense and broke them down. We just made things happen today," Crotty said. "We had excellent shot selection. We had some impressive road wins but now we are starting our second season. We really wanted to get off to a good start."

Like the Cavaliers, Duke had a handful of impressive non-conference wins (winning five straight by an average of 27 points). But Coach Mike Krzyzewski had no answers for his team's poor performance.

"We were totally outplayed by Virginia. They played outstanding defensive basketball, played like the veteran team they are," he said. "We were two for 11 in the first half inside four feet. When I look at this game, I don't think about jump shooting, I think about physical play, not following our shots inside. And we had 24 turnovers."

Despite its shooting woes, Duke managed to get within 40-32 at halftime.

Grant Hill opened the second half with a short jumper to make it a six-point game, but the comeback ended there.

Duke went cold again and Virginia hit another one of its spurts. Stith had a long jumper and two inside baskets and Turner got inside for two layins as the hosts had an 18-4 run over a six-minute span to make it 58-39.

"We were fortunate they missed a few shots. That helped us out to a lead," Cavaliers Coach Jeff Jones said. "We wanted to attack for 40 minues and I think we did that. We told out guys to stay aggressive and not allow {Duke point guard Bobby} Hurley to penetrate. We told John to stay in front of him and our other players to help out."

Hurley, who had only five points and six assists, committed eight turnovers. Oliver picked him clean on back-to-back possessions during the final Virginia spurt. Duke had trailed by 13 with more than 10 minutes to play before Oliver came up with three steals -- two from Hurley -- and assisted on two baskets by Stith and one by Crotty. With less than six minutes left, Oliver's baseline jumper, Crotty's layup and a three-pointer and bank shot by Stith sent Virginia to a commanding 76-55 lead, and many fans home to watch the final minutes of the Redskins-Eagles playoff game.