Best ever? Notre Dame's thrilling Women's Final Four win over UConn will go down in history
Best women’s basketball game ever? Maybe.
A year after Mississippi State’s Morgan William drained the shot that shocked the sport and ended Connecticut’s record 111-game winning streak, Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale drilled a shot from just inside the 3-point arc to deny the Huskies a chance at a 12th national title.
The Irish won the highest-scoring game in Women’s Final Four history 91-89 to cap a classic night in Columbus, the first time both national semifinals went to overtime. Mississippi State survived Louisville 73-63 in the earlier game Friday thanks to a late 3-pointer, a controversial no-foul call and a missed putback at the regulation buzzer.
— NCAA Women's BKB (@ncaawbb) March 31, 2018
Notre Dame (34-3) and Mississippi State (37-1) will play for the championship Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. It marks the Irish’s fifth championship game in eight seasons – one more than UConn – but Notre Dame’s lone title came in 2001.
“I probably should thank every Catholic from coast to coast for all the prayers on Good Friday at the end of that game,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.
Ogunbowale’s basket will go down in Irish lore as smoothly as it swished through the net with a second left.
“That definitely wasn’t the play call,” the senior second-team All-American said. “I didn’t know it was going in, but it felt good.”
Even without a timeout and only a second to work with, UConn (36-1) executed a brilliant pass and Katie Lou Samuelson nearly made a game-tying shot at, or perhaps slightly after, the buzzer.
“There were so many times they could have put us away,” UConn senior guard Kia Nurse said. “We clawed and clawed and clawed our way back into it and made big play after big play. So I’m proud of my team.”
The finish alone made the game a classic, but prior to Ogunbowale’s heroics, UConn twice improbably rallied from late five-point deficits. The Huskies trailed 79-74 until Napheesa Collier hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left in regulation, and Nurse stole the subsequent inbounds pass and drove for the tying layup. After Notre Dame’s Jessica Shepard dribbled the ball off her leg, UConn had an opportunity to win, but second-team All-American Gabby Williams couldn’t convert a contested layup.
A similar scene played out in overtime. Notre Dame’s Jackie Young made one free throw for the last of her game-high 32 points but missed another with 44 seconds left, and Collier scored to cut the Irish lead to 89-86. UConn quickly fouled Ogunbowale, who missed both free throws, and Crystal Dangerfield answered to tie the game and set the stage for the Irish’s biggest shot in their 48 games against the Huskies.
“To come from behind – well, to have a big lead, squander that, come from behind, and with this team – I mean, this one’s really special,” McGraw said. “It’s got to be the best one.”
Each team used only six players. Injury-riddled Notre Dame doesn’t have many more options.
“I didn’t think we’d have more ACL tears than losses,” McGraw said.
UConn has lost seven straight overtime games but still hasn’t lost in regulation for five years, since its final game as a member of the Big East, the 2013 conference tournament final against Notre Dame.
Nurse and second-team All-American Gabby Williams end their career with a pair of national titles and a pair of stinging Final Four defeats.
“Our seniors, you know, they’re going to remember this one and last year’s for a long, long time,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “The two championships they won freshman and sophomore year are probably distant memories right about now.”
The last seven teams to beat UConn in the NCAA tournament prior to Friday, including Mississippi State last year, failed to win the championship. Seventeen years ago, Notre Dame followed up a Final Four win over the Huskies by beating Purdue in the national title game, but it couldn’t replicate the feat in both 2011 and 2012.
Auriemma was crushed but acknowledged that it was a historic evening.
“It was an amazing night of basketball for the fans here, for people watching,” Auriemma said. “It was pretty impressive, I have to say.”
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