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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — With designs on a top seeding in the NCAA Tournament, No. 5 Notre Dame knew a stumble at Virginia could be very costly.
The Irish, however, did the opposite, taking the suspense away with a game-opening 20-2 run and cruising, 83-69 on Thursday night.
"I like it. I'd like to do it every game," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "I don't think that's a challenge at all. I think this team is focused. They know what they have to do and with the way we can score, we're going to be tough to beat when we get that kind of a lead."
Especially with the tandem of Arike Ogunbowale and Jessica Shepard.
Ogunbowale had 27 points and eight rebounds and Shepard scored 15 with eight rebounds, and both went over the 1,500-point mark for their careers. Notre Dame (24-2, 12-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) also got 16 points from Marina Mabrey and 11 points and eight assists from Jackie Young in winning its ninth in a row.
The victory allowed the Irish to keep pace with No. 4 Louisville, an 87-52 winner at Boston College, atop the league standings.
Shepard, a transfer from Nebraska, has been a huge part of Notre Dame's success.
"Jess really started out great. She's done so many things. I don't know where we would be without her," McGraw said. "We need all seven of the players that we have, but she's capable of a double-double every single night and she is another tough matchup."
Shepard needed just four points, and Ogunbowale needed 13 to reach the 1,500 milestone.
Felicia Aiyeotan had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Virginia (16-10, 9-4). J'Kyra Brown also scored 17 points. The Cavaliers started the night tied with No. 12 Florida State for third in the ACC, but the Seminoles beat Clemson, dropping Virginia into fourth with N.C. State.
"I'm just kind of disappointed that we've gotten ourselves into a little bit of a routine of being one type of team in one half and a totally different type of team in the second half," Virginia coach Joanne Boyle said. Her team played No. 4 Louisville close for a half two weeks ago, then got blown out in the second half. They also had a big lead at Virginia Tech four days ago and had to scramble to hang on, winning 64-62.
"We've got to change that moving forward because every team right now is playing for something," Boyle said.
The Irish started quickly, hitting four of their first five shots and attacking the basket. They led 27-11 after one period and stretched it to 37-16 midway through the second period. Of their first 37 points, 30 were scored inside, giving them a 30-6 advantage against the Cavaliers before Aiyeotan heated up after halftime.
Lauren Moses of Virginia scored nine points and became the 34th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point milestone.
Notre Dame: The Irish put on an impressive display of versatile scoring. Mabrey hit four 3-pointers, Young was effective both driving to the basket and finding teammates and Shepard, who scored 1,112 points in two seasons at Nebraska, was dominant at times. She scored the first eight points of the second quarter. The Irish also forced 15 turnovers and had a 26-11 edge in points scored off turnovers.
Virginia: The Cavaliers lost for the third time in four games, with all three losses coming against teams ranked in the top 12. Their resume is stronger than it has been in recent years to qualify for NCAA Tournament consideration, and it would be Virginia's first trip to the tournament in nine seasons. "We've got to get back to doing the things that we do well," Boyle said.
Notre Dame plays at Boston College on Sunday.
Virginia is at home against Miami on Sunday.
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