VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova was playing at home Tuesday night, though it might not have felt like it with all of the green-clad T-shirts that filled the Pavilion.
A lot of the fans were there to cheer on Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who was going for her 700th career victory.
They didn't go home disappointed, although the host Wildcats put a scare into the second-ranked Irish.
Villanova was within a basket with less than five minutes to play before falling 59-52. It was the Wildcats' first loss at home this season.
"I thought we played very well in spurts, and we made mistakes in spurts, the difference against a high-quality team like that is if you make mistakes, they took advantage of every mistake we made," Villanova coach Harry Perretta said. "I thought we played decent on offense. We generated three-point shots on offense and overall it was a good game and we'll just try to get better and show up for the next one."
McGraw became the 13th coach in Division I history to reach the 700-victory plateau with No. 2 Notre Dame's 59-52 victory over Villanova on Tuesday night. Her career record is now 700-257 in 31 years coaching (612-216 in 26 years at Notre Dame).
McGraw played for Bishop Shanahan in nearby West Chester and collegiately for St. Joseph's. Her first head coaching job was at Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor, literally down the street from Villanova.
"You know, I feel so blessed, I'm so incredibly lucky to be coaching at Notre Dame and to be surrounded by such class people, all of the players that have come through the last 25 years, the administration, all of the assistant coaches, everyone at Notre Dame has treated me so well," McGraw said. "It did mean more winning at Villanova. My whole family was here and we had about 100 people here, and it was so excited to see so much green. There was a lot of green out there. It did kind of feel like a home game."
This wasn't an easy victory for the Irish (21-1, 9-0 Big East).
"This was a difficult game for us, it's always hard for us to play against Villanova, they just have such a patient offense and we want to go, we want to score 80 points and they really slowed us down," McGraw said. "I thought Natalie Achonwa played really well. I thought all of our guards played well. It was really important for us to have other players step, and we're capable of having that up as a team."
Natalie Achonwa scored 19 points and had 11 rebounds to lead the Irish. Kayla McBride added 16 points and Skylar Diggins had 14, shooting 4 for 17 from the field.
The Irish never trailed, though the game was momentarily tied 19-19 with 5:17 left in the half on Rachel Roberts' 3-pointer. Notre Dame regained control of the game by closing the half on a 10-2 run to enter halftime leading 29-21. Villanova did get within 48-46, on a Devon Kane's 3-pointer with 4:45 left in the game, but the Irish scored 11 of the final 17 points to seal the win.
Emily Leer scored 15 points and Roberts added 14 for the Wildcats (16-6, 5-4).
Diggins started very slow. She missed her first seven shots before scoring on a layup with a minute left in the half. She did give Notre Dame a big boost defensively when Villanova closed to within two on Kane's 3-pointer.
"We got two possessions of good defense, and I think that gives your team a lot of confidence," Diggins said. "We wanted to push the pace because we knew they wanted to slow it down. We got out a caught a couple of sets and got some baskets off of that. They're a tough team to play against, and they want to play offense during the whole shot clock. They all can shoot the ball, so you have to be honest on the 3-point shot. It's a pain to guard, so I'm glad it's my senior year. We're glad we got the win for coach on the road and 700. It's special for her, and for us and for the program."