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Five takeaways from UVA women’s basketball’s loss vs. No. 19 Notre Dame

Virginia’s late comeback wasn’t enough as the ‘Hoos drop below .500.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers fell to No. 19 Notre Dame 86-76 inside John Paul Jones Arena on Thursday evening, marking their sixth-consecutive loss and seventh in their past eight games.

After the ‘Hoos kept it close in the first half, freshman phenom Hannah Hidalgo (23 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 6 steals) and the Fighting Irish used a big third quarter to seemingly put the game out of reach. Virginia, however, came roaring back down the stretch, trimming the gap to as little as six points late in the fourth quarter before Notre Dame managed to ice the game at the free throw line.

Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s hard-fought game of runs.

The ‘Hoos can build on their fourth quarter performance

After a slow start to the second half, Virginia trailed the Fighting Irish 60-40 with 2:29 remaining in the third quarter. In the midst of a growing losing streak and on the verge of another lopsided loss, the ‘Hoos could’ve easily called it an early night, but instead they fought until the final whistle and used an extended 30-16 run to get themselves right back in the game.

The ‘Hoos shot 11-of-19 (57.9%) from the floor in the fourth quarter and went 3-of-7 (42.9%) from beyond the arc as they ramped up the pressure on the Irish with an energetic full-court press that forced Notre Dame to turn the ball over seven times in the final eight minutes.

As the shots started falling and the momentum swung in JPJ, the ‘Hoos showed a flash of confidence that’s been missing for several weeks. Although their comeback effort ultimately fell short, hopefully we can look back on this fourth quarter as a turning point for a squad that hasn’t been having a lot of fun recently.

Another tight whistle hurts Virginia

The ‘Hoos have been hamstrung by foul trouble in recent weeks and that trend continued Thursday. There was a total of 56 fouls called in the game, 35 of which on Virginia.

UVA’s frontcourt offense was taken out of the game entirely as both Camryn Taylor and London Clarkson fouled out, while Olivia McGhee and Paris Clark were each limited with four fouls.

Down the stretch especially, it seemed like after every big Virginia shot there would be a touch foul called on the ‘Hoos to send the Irish to the line. Notre Dame shot a ridiculous 44 free throws in total and knocked down 35 (75%), including going 14-for-17 (82.4%) in the final quarter.

The ‘Hoos hit 17-of-18 (94.4%) free throws themselves to help keep the game close, but the effectiveness of their late-game press was really hurt by the exceptionally tight whistle.

UVA continues to get beat in transition

A troubling trend in conference play for Virginia has been their inability to shut down their opponent’s fastbreak offense. The ‘Hoos were outscored in transition by Notre Dame 26-12 on Thursday after being outpaced in the same category by a combined 26 points over their last two contests at UNC and NC State.

Coach Mox puts a lot of offensive emphasis on pushing the pace and moving the ball up court quickly for easy buckets in transition. On the other side of that equation, however, the ‘Hoos have been a little slow getting back on defense recently and are allowing far too many long outlet passes over the top which lead to easy baskets and more trips to the foul line.

Virginia’s halfcourt defense has been solid all year, but the ‘Hoos need to get their transition defense cleaned up moving forward.

The ‘Hoos can’t afford to lose Kymora Johnson

Virginia’s big fourth quarter unfortunately ended with an injury scare for Kymora Johnson as the freshman point guard went down with what appeared to be an ankle injury with just nine seconds remaining in the game.

The ‘Hoos have dealt with more than their fair share of injuries this season, but they absolutely cannot afford to lose Johnson for any extended period of time. There wasn’t an immediate update on her status postgame, so we’ll have to wait and see if she can suit up for Virginia’s upcoming game on Sunday afternoon at No. 15 Florida State.

Johnson finished with 16 points (6-14 FG, 2-7 3PT), 8 rebounds, and 7 assists on Thursday, continuing a fantastic stretch of play against a string of high-level ACC opponents.

Virginia’s trio of talented young guards provides plenty to be optimistic about

Thursday’s loss dropped Virginia below .500 on the season, and a six-game losing skid to begin ACC play is certainly not what Coach Mox and company had envisioned for 2024.

Nevertheless, Virginia’s young backcourt trio of Kymora Johnson, Paris Clark (16 points (6-11 FG, 2-3 3PT), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals), and Olivia McGhee (14 pts (5-10 FG, 2-4 3PT) and 2 steals) provides plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of this program.

Johnson and McGhee are freshmen while Clark, who transferred from Arizona during the offseason, is still only a sophomore. It’s not hard to imagine the three of them growing into a dangerous force in the ACC over the next few seasons.