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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame holds off Virginia

| Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Virginia kept the contest close Sunday, but the No. 2 Irish walked away from the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Va., with a 79-72 win to stay unbeaten through their first 15 games.

Irish sophomore guard Jewell Loyd defends UNC Wilmington freshman guard Brie Mobley during Notre Dame's 99-50 exhibition victory over the Seahawks on Nov. 9, 2013 at Purcell Pavilion.Emmet Farnan

Irish sophomore guard Jewell Loyd defends UNC Wilmington freshman guard Brie Mobley during Notre Dame’s 99-50 exhibition victory over the Seahawks on Nov. 9, 2013 at Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame (15-0, 3-0 ACC) won by only single digits for the first time this season, despite having a 51-38 lead early in the second half. The Cavaliers (8-8, 1-2) outscored the Irish 42-38 in the paint, and Virginia’s bench provided 31 points compared to seven from Notre Dame’s reserves, but the Irish fought off an 11-4 second-half run by the Cavaliers and held on for the victory.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said the tough road matchup illustrated the challenges of playing in the talented ACC.

“I think the ACC is such a tough conference defensively; [it has] good rebounding, good coaching,” McGraw said. “It’s important to [keep playing the way we have been.] We’re going to be challenged every night, especially on the road.”

Senior forward Natalie Achonwa (26 points), senior guard Kayla McBride (23) and sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (17) provided most of the scoring for Notre Dame.

The other two Irish starters, senior forward Ariel Braker and freshman guard Lindsay Allen, added six points total.

Although Achonwa, McBride and Loyd — the only Irish players averaging double-digit points per game this season — tend to be the biggest scorers for Notre Dame, more players usually contribute. Notre Dame has enjoyed regular scoring from Allen, as well as from sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey and freshman forward Taya Reimer off the bench.

McGraw said she would like to see more balanced scoring than the Irish exhibited against the Cavaliers, but appreciated the efforts of several players, particularly the upperclassmen.

“I’m really pleased with Achonwa and McBride … they’re playing like seniors,” McGraw said. “We can count on them to show their poise in adverse situations. I would like to see a little more balance — that would be better — but as it turned out, it was good to have three people in double figures.”

Cavaliers sophomore guard Faith Randolph came off the bench and led Virginia with 23 points, while junior forward Sarah Imovbioh scored 18 points, but they could not keep the Cavaliers from suffering their second narrow loss in three ACC matchups. Virginia sandwiched a 67-60 victory over Virginia Tech between a four-point loss to Pittsburgh on Jan. 5 and Sunday’s loss to Notre Dame.

The Irish, on the other hand, have been perfect in the ACC so far this season and remain one of two undefeated teams in the country. No. 1 Connecticut is also unbeaten with an 18-0 overall record, but will not play Notre Dame this season after years of rivalry in the Big East.

The Irish will face other challenges, however, including No. 3 Duke on the road in a high-powered ACC matchup Feb. 2.

Notre Dame and Virginia drew 4,451 fans Sunday, and the Irish can expect noisy road crowds in the future, especially for the marquee matchup with the Blue Devils (16-1, 3-0). Being undefeated can cause distractions, but McGraw said Notre Dame has used its perfect record to its advantage.

“I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence,” McGraw said. “We expect to win, we try not to be influenced by the crowd, we concentrate [on ourselves.]”

The Irish continue their ACC campaign Thursday against Pittsburgh at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu

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