Jan. 12, 2014
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and No. 2 Notre Dame survived their toughest test of the season to remain unbeaten.
Natalie Achonwa scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 16 rebounds and the Fighting Irish survived a late challenge to beat Virginia 79-72 on Sunday.
"Welcome to the ACC," McGraw quipped after her team's first victory by single digits this year.
Notre Dame is one of two unbeaten teams left in the country joining former BIG EAST rival Connecticut.
The Cavaliers close to within 71-69 with 3:49 remaining before the Irish held on for their 38th consecutive regular-season victory, their 27th consecutive regular-season road game and its 23rd consecutive regular-season league game.
Kayla McBride added 23 points and five assists for the Fighting Irish (15-0, 3-0 ACC), including a bizarre driving layup after Virginia closed to within two. On the play, she drove down the lane in traffic, flipped the ball up and it fell.
"I was just trying to get to the free throw line, trying to make something happen," McBride said.
Jewell Loyd added 17 points for Notre Dame.
Faith Randolph led Virginia (8-8, 1-2) with a career-best 23 points and Sarah Imovbioh had 18 points and 12 rebounds. The Cavaliers were coming off a victory at Virginia Tech in which they rallied from 17 points down to win, but couldn't quite repeat the feat despite getting so close and firing up the crowd of 4,451 at John Paul Jones Arena.
Randolph's big day highlighted a problem for McGraw - her team's susceptibility to athletic, driving players.
"Randolph played really well," the coach, in her 32nd season, said. "We expected her to play well, we expected her to shoot well, but we did a poor job guarding her because she was really difficult for us to guard. ... We've got to get a better plan, I think, on how we're going to guard people because what we're doing now isn't working."
Notre Dame led 43-36 at halftime and seemed poised to blow the game open when it opened the second half on an 8-2 run to go ahead 51-38. Achonwa had five points and Loyd hit a 3-pointer in the burst, but after a timeout, Virginia got three consecutive baskets from Randolph to begin a stirring comeback.
"When they did go on a run, I called a timeout and the kids knew, "That's their run,"' Virginia coach Joanne Boyle said, adding that she had warned them at halftime that the Irish would try to take control quickly in the second half.
The Irish rebuilt their lead to 61-51, but an 11-4 run by Virginia pulled them within three. Randolph had five points in the burst and fed Ataira Franklin for another basket to get the Cavs within 65-62.
Three times the Irish scored to stretch their lead to five, and each time Virginia responded, finally getting the margin down to 71-69 on Imovbioh's free throw with 3:49 remaining. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, Imovbioh missed her first two free throws on the trip before Franklin rebounded the second, and when Imovbioh was fouled again, she made one.
With its lead smaller than it had been since late in the first half, Notre Dame got a tough driving basket from McBride, rebounded a Virginia miss and got two free throws by Achonwa, and then followed a turnover by the Cavaliers with Achonwa's inside basket, extending the lead to 77-69 with 1:14 left.
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame matches the second-best start to a season in program history, duplicating the performance of the 2009-10 Fighting Irish squad and trailing only the 2000-01 team that began its season at 23-0 ... Notre Dame has won 38 consecutive regular season games, as well as a school-record 27 consecutive regular season road contests (and 34 of its last 39 overall) ... the Fighting Irish have won 23 consecutive regular season conference games, as well as 17 consecutive regular season road contests in league play ... Notre Dame picks up its first win in the three-game series against Virginia, with the teams meeting for the first time since Jan. 4, 1988 (a 79-59 UVa win in Charlottesville) ... the Fighting Irish had season lows of 12 assists and five steals, as well as their first single-digit win of the year ... Notre Dame featured two 20-point scorers in the same game for the first time since March 24, 2013, when Jewell Loyd (27) and Kayla McBride (22) did so against Tennessee-Martin in the first round of the NCAA Championship in Iowa City, Iowa ... senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa collected her team-leading fifth double-double of the season (third in the past four games), and the 25th of her career, tying her with Jane Politiski (1977-80) for seventh on the Notre Dame career double-doubles chart ... Achonwa scored a career-high 26 points, three more than her previous best against Utah State on Dec. 8, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion ... Achonwa's 16 rebounds also were a season high, while her three blocks tied her career best for the second time in the past three games ... Achonwa is the first Notre Dame player with 15 points and 15 rebounds in a game since March 10, 2013, when Achonwa herself had 20 points and a career-high 20 rebounds against South Florida in the BIG EAST Conference Championship quarterfinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. ... Achonwa moved up two spots to 23rd place on the Notre Dame career scoring list, now with 1,216 points to pass Krissi Davis (1,194 from 1987-91) and Heidi Bunek (1,202 from 1985-89) ... McBride logged her second consecutive 20-point game and fourth this season ... she moved up three spots on the Fighting Irish career scoring list, now with 1,448 points to pass Lindsay Schrader (1,429 from 2005-10), current Notre Dame assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey (1,430 from 1996-2001) and Sheila McMillen (1,439 from 1995-99).