CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – 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 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 UConn.
The Cavaliers closed 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 win and their 23rd consecutive regular-season league victor.
Kayla McBride added 23 points and five assists for the 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.
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 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.