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BC battles back to avoid slip up vs. Virginia

The Boston College Eagles set the tone for the second half with a 10-0 run to open the third. Without that they would have fallen to the lowly Virginia Cavaliers.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Boston College at Notre Dame
Maria Gakdeng (with ball) has more consecutive starts to start a freshman season than any BC player since Carolyn Swords in 2007-08.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The Boston College Eagles were on their first losing streak of the season entering Thursday night’s game against the lowly Virginia Cavaliers at Conte Forum.

But it wasn’t an embarrassing losing streak. The Eagles had lost to No. 12 Georgia Tech and No. 20 Notre Dame, both on the road. They were probably focusing on not looking past Virginia and staying disciplined and intense, hoping for a blowout before moving on to face a very good Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg, Va. on Sunday. If all went according to plan Thursday, BC’s status as a likely NCAA Tournament team should the season end now would still be in tact and the team could look ahead to bigger and better accomplishments.

In the end, BC did not suffer what would have been a huge blow to their tournament chances, but won by just eight (65-57) against a UVA team that has now lost 10 in a row and is winless in ACC play.

While the margin of victory was disappointing, it’s important to remember that BC (15-7, 6-5 ACC) beat Clemson (7-15, 1-10 ACC) by just six points and still turned around and beat Notre Dame 11 days later. The Eagles know they are still a really good team when at their best.

The Cavs (3-16, 0-9 ACC) didn't just hang with BC early; they actually led by as much as 12, with that margin coming well into the contest (1:55 remaining in the second). Sophomore guard Kaydan Lawson had notched her 13th and 14th points on a drive down the middle to make it an 11-point UVA lead with 3:43 to go before the break. Then, after a Clara Ford layup for BC, McKenna Dale hit the three that gave the Cavs their biggest lead of the game. Dale was a thorn in BC’s side with her 3-of-3 effort from downtown. Meanwhile, Lawson was simply phenomenal to start the game with seven points in each of the first two frames.

The Eagles trailed by nine at halftime. They finally went on a big run at the start of the third, scoring the first 10 points of the second half to take a one-point lead. Taylor Soule started things off with a deep two and then Marnelle Garraud hit a three, Maria Gakdeng made a layup and Makayla Dickens knocked down the trey that gave BC the lead.

Later in the third, the Eagles went on a 7-0 run that featured five points from Cameron Swartz and gave them an eight-point lead. Swartz capped the run with a 3-point play off a fast break lay in. Dale would kill BC’s momentum with a three that cut Virginia’s deficit to five 31 seconds later, but the Eagles pushed the lead back to eight entering the fourth.

The Cavs cut it to three on a mid-range make by Taylor Valladay two minutes and seven seconds into the final frame, so the possibility of losing was still very much in play for BC. Garraud answered with a three 11 seconds later and that was followed by a Swartz three that gave BC its biggest lead of the game at nine. Afterwards, Swartz motioned for the crowd to pump up the volume.

Virginia trailed by just six with 2:21 to play, but defensive rebounds by Gakdeng at 52 seconds remaining and Garraud at 35 seconds remaining ended chances for the Cavs to get any closer. Those boards and some free throws made Mir McLean’s layup to cut it to seven with 19 ticks left a lot less impactful. Gakdeng finished with 16 rebounds.

Swartz (five rebounds) paced BC with 18 points while Gakdeng added eight points, five blocks and two steals to her stat line. Soule had a solid outing with 10 points, seven boards, four assists and three steals, while Garraud also had four helpers to go along with her 14 points. Dickens chipped in with nine points.

Lawson was held scoreless over the final 23:43, fouling out on an offensive foul with 4:32 to play. McLean recorded eight points and 10 rebounds in defeat.

Garraud’s three triples marked a team high for BC while Swartz knocked down a team-high eight free throws on 10 attempts. BC attempted 39 free throws, making 28 of them. That was 26 more attempts and 22 more makes than Virginia.

Because of all the free throws, the Eagles were able two win with a frigid field goal percentage of 26.3. UVA shot 37.7 percent from the floor.

“I thought we played a rough game today, it wasn't indicative of how I think we usually play,” said BC head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. “And credit that to Virginia, they came out of the gate playing really hard. ... For us to play not our best ... and still come out with an ACC win — I think that’s a lot of growth for our program. ... I think every ACC win is a cherished thing because it’s such a great conference.”

When asked about her competitive drive to not to drop the game, Swartz said:

“Coach, there were a few things she said we needed to do and I was like ‘I’m gonna try to execute those.’ Rebounding, crashing the boards as much as you can, finding the open person. ... I think that just getting every 50/50 ball and then stepping up on defense even when the shots aren't falling. So I think our heart and drive was through the rebounds and defense.”