Women's basketball comes up short against No. 2 Notre Dame
Despite Randolph's 23, Cavaliers fall 79-72 against Fighting Irish
Most teams stop warming up when the lights go out at John Paul Jones Arena for the Virginia women’s basketball team’s pregame entrance. Notre Dame went right on draining jump shots and flinging pinpoint passes.
From the beginning of the Sunday afternoon matchup, the Fighting Irish played with the calm confidence characteristic of Division I’s second-ranked team. Virginia, however, stuck with them to the end, closing to within two points on junior forward Sarah Imovbioh’s free throw with 3:49 to play before losing ground in the final minutes. The Cavaliers (8-8, 1-2 ACC) fell, 79-72, but their effort prompted an ovation from the appreciative home crowd.
“[I’m] just so proud of my team and how they came out poised and confident and just worked their butts off to put themselves in a position to win that game,” Virginia coach Joanne Boyle said.
In the end, Virginia could not quite stop Fighting Irish senior guard Kayla McBride, who scored 23 points including a tough leaner for a 73-69 lead with 2:16 on the clock, or senior forward Natalie Achonwa, who dominated inside to the tune of 26 points and 16 rebounds, eight on the offensive end. Leading scorer Jewell Loyd, a sophomore guard, woke up after halftime to finish with her customary 17 big ones.
“We hoped for a little warmer, nicer welcome from Virginia, and they were tough,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “That was a great game.”
Virginia sophomore guard Faith Randolph came up big, going on a personal six-point run to keep the game from slipping out of hand in the opening minutes of the second half. Virginia’s sparkplug off the bench ended up with a career-best 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
“When I see a shot I feel that I can make, I just shoot it, and that’s what I did,” Randolph said.
The Fighting Irish (15-0, 3-0 ACC), winners of their 38th consecutive regular season game, tried to put distance between themselves and the Cavaliers, but Boyle’s tough-nosed group battled back from every deficit except the last.
Loyd put her team up 61-51 with 11:28 on the clock, making a twisting layup as she fell to the floor, but Virginia climbed back in it with Randolph hitting a 3-pointer 23 seconds later. Senior guard Ataira Franklin, Virginia’s emotional pulse, got the whole gym roaring when she purposely threw her baseline inbounds pass off Loyd’s backside, scooped up the ball, and put in a short two. The crowd got on its feet when Randolph found Franklin on the break for a pump-faked lay-in that made it 65-62, Notre Dame, with 7:55 to go.
“Faith’s our sixth man on the bench, but that crowd was our sixth man, and that just energy in that gym — it really helps,” Boyle said.
To start the game, Virginia rolled out its three senior captains — guards Franklin, Lexie Gerson and Kelsey Wolfe — alongside Imovbioh and freshman guard Tiffany Suarez. Then Loyd pulled up for an on-target jumper four seconds after the tipoff. McBride, a Third Team All-American, also showed her shooting prowess, sinking her spring-loaded jump-shot off the catch and off the dribble. Achonwa muscled her way to a first half double-double.
Virginia answered the challenge, making 47.1 percent of their shots in the period and putting seven players in the scoring column. The Cavaliers trailed 43-36 at the break, encouraging against a Notre Dame team with four 40-point wins this season.
Following the game, Boyle took the microphone on the sideline, thanking the fans for supporting her team in a spirited — though ultimately unsuccessful — effort. The veteran coach spoke positively of her group, and her players echoed her positivity.
“We can play against anybody,” Randolph said. “I mean, we look forward to opportunities like this — you know, Notre Dame’s second in the country. We can go up against them.”