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Women's Hoops: Irish beat Duke again, 81-70

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A 20-2 run to start the game propelled the Irish women to another ACC victory, moving them to 27-0 on the season. Two teams stand between Notre Dame and an undefeated regular season.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (27-0, 14-0) women's hoops team continued its dominance of its new conference on Sunday afternoon, beating the second-place Duke Blue Devils (24-4, 11-3) by double-digits for the second time this season.

In winning on Sunday, the Irish clinched the regular season ACC title in this their inaugural season in the conference.

After starting the game on a 20-2 run, Notre Dame was in cruise control throughout the first half. The hot start was in large part due to All-Americans Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa, both of whom tallied double-digit scoring within a minute of the Blue Devils as a team. Notre Dame rode Achonwa and McBride, who combined for 29 first half points, to a 14-point halftime lead.

It should have been greater but for two terrible inbound passes that were stolen and converted to points in the waning seconds, including one miracle half-court shot that Richa Jackson banked in just before the buzzer.

They could have used that larger lead, too, as the Irish went cold for stretches in the second half while Duke warmed up offensively. Elizabeth Williams was beating Achonwa inside with relative ease, and the Blue Devils dominated the rebounding battle, enabling them to get as close as 7 in the second half.

Still, the Irish kept Duke mostly at arm's length, only mildly disappointing that they let their top ten opponent back into the game in front of the sold out Purcell Pavilion crowd. However, much like the game three weeks ago, the Irish were able to extend their lead in the final minutes, before the end-game scramble by Duke culminated in the 11-point victory.

Kayla McBride finished with a career-high 31 points on 13 of 25 shooting. Achonwa finished with just 15 points and 7 rebounds despite the great start after struggling for much of the second half. Jewell Loyd had a nearly opposite effort, missing her first six shots but finishing with 21 points and a number of key hustle plays.

Duke center Elizabeth Williams, who really struggled in the first match up between these teams, was excellent in this one, going for 20 points and 6 rebounds. The Blue Devils were dealt a blow halfway through the second half, losing star guard Alexis Jones to what was called a sprained knee, which hopefully does not turn out to be too serious.

Notre Dame still has a tough road on their quest to finish the regular season undefeated. Muffet McGraw's squad hosts the 11th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels on Thursday night before heading to Raleigh next Sunday to take on the 14th-ranked N.C. State Wolfpack, fresh off two losses to Duke and UNC and seeking to stay in contention for the coveted 3rd place finish heading into the ACC tournament.