Natalie Achonwa scored a career-high 26 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and No. 2 Notre Dame survived a late challenge by Virginia and beat the Cavaliers 79-72 on Sunday afternoon.
Kayla McBride added 23 points and five assists for the Fighting Irish (15-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), and Jewell Loyd had 17.
Faith Randolph led Virginia (8-8, 1-2) with 23 points and Sarah Imovbioh had 18 points and 12 rebounds. The Cavaliers were coming of a victory at Virginia Tech in which they rallied from 17 points down to win, but couldn't quite repeat the feat despite getting within 71-69 with 3:49 remaining.
That's when McBride and Achonwa took over, scoring the game's next six points.
Virginia was outscored 20-8 at the free throw line and outrebounded 47-39.
Notre Dame led 43-36 at halftime and seemed poised to blow the game open with 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, but after a timeout, Virginia got three consecutive baskets from Randolph to begin a stirring comeback.
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 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.
With its lead smaller than its 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.
The game was close throughout the first half. Virginia led 25-24 with 6½ minutes left until the Fighting Irish went on a 15-7 run that featured three consecutive jumper by McBride. Michaela Mabrey finished the burst with a 3-pointer, giving Notre Dame a 39-32 lead, and it was 43-36 at the half.
Achonwa had 11 points, 10 rebounds and three assists by halftime.
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