By:Sean Williams:|4.0 Sports Media
COLUMBUS, Ohio- Arike Ogunbowale’s jumper from the corner with a second left lifted Notre Dame to a 91-89 overtime victory over UConn on Friday night in the national semifinals at Nationwide Arena.
Ogunbowale finished the contest with 27 points and Jackie Young had a career-high 32 to lead Notre Dame back to the championship game for the first time since 2015.
“I know I just had to shoot it at the last minute,” Ogunbowale said. “I didn’t want to give them a chance to get the ball. I went into Mamba mentality. Kobe’s here, so that’s what I tried to channel.”
It’s the second consecutive year an undefeated UConn team lost in the Final Four on a last-second shot in overtime. It felt like Deja Vu all over again. Last time it was Mississippi State and Morgan William, ending the Huskies’ 111-game win streak.
“There’s nothing you can say to a college kid after experiencing this two years in a row that’s going to make them feel any better about, you know,” Geno Auriemma said. “We had an amazing run for five months. That’s just the way it is. One weekend in March gets to decide your season.”
UConn trailed 24-11 with 58 seconds to play in the first quarter, but used a 13-0 run to tie the game 24-24 at the 6:55 mark of the second quarter. After shooting 6-of-20 (30 percent) in the first quarter, the Huskies shot 12-of-19 (63.2 percent) in the second quarter. UConn outscored Notre Dame 27-10 in the second quarter to take a 41-34 lead at halftime.
UConn came into the game having won six straight against Notre Dame, including three straight at the Women’s Final Four. The Huskies now leads the all-time series against Notre Dame 35-11.
The Irish started out hot like their previous meeting early in the season. UConn trailed 24-11 late in the first quarter before Katie Lou Samuelson hit a 3-pointer just before the end of the period. That began a 28-6 run over the next 9 minutes to give the Huskies a 39-30 advantage. Azura Stevens had 10 points during the run as UConn took over and brought sellout crowd of nearly 20,000 fans to their feet.
The Huskies (36-1) led 41-34 at the half before Notre Dame rallied. The teams traded the lead in the third quarter before the Huskies went up 60-57 heading into the fourth quarter.
UConn was down five with under a minute to go in regulation before Napheesa Collier hit a 3-pointer in front of her bench with 15 seconds left and Kia Nurse stole the inbound pass and raced down the court for two with a few seconds later to tie it. After the Irish turned it over with 3.6 seconds left in regulation, Gabby Williams’ jumper was a little short, sending the game to overtime.
Ogunbowale had a chance to seal the game in the final minute of overtime, but she missed two free throws from the charity stripe. Sophomore guard Crystal Dangerfield then hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 89, setting up the histrionics of the game. The Huskies threw the ball down the court after the trey, but didn’t get a chance to tie it.
The teams traded basket for basket in overtime before the Irish took a 86-84 with 2:37 left in over-time. Jackie Young then made three free throws over the next 2 minutes to give ND a five-point lead with 43 seconds left in the game.
Napheesa Collier then scored in the paint to make it a three-point game. Ogunbowale missed her two free throws a few seconds later. But she would atone for her miss with the game winner 37 seconds later.
“I practice this all the time,” Ogunbowale said. “It’s everyone’s dream to get a game-winning shot, so you practice this in the gym when you’re by yourself. So I was prepared for this moment.”
Muffet McGraw has the third-most wins in the NCAA Tournament (60-23) in 25 appearances. She has passed Maryland’s Brenda Frese for fifth on the list for winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament (.722), behind only Geno Auriemma (.860, 117-19), Baylor’s Kim Mulkey (.746, 44-15), Stanford’s Tara Vandeveer (.730, 84-31) and Louisville’s Jeff Walz (.729, 27-10).
The Irish advance to their sixth national championship game, and fifth in the last eight years. ND also reached the title game in 2001 (national champions), 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. The Golden Domers are now 7-6 at the Women’s Final Four.
“So proud of this team. We got off to a great start. We had a little bit of trouble in the second quarter and responded well. It was kind of a dogfight, I thought. Both teams throwing punches. They made some big plays, some good plays. We made some plays back. I thought it came down to rebounding in the fourth quarter in the overtime. Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said.
The Irish will face the Bulldogs – who won again in OT earlier Friday – on Sunday night in the title game. Muffet McGraw’s squad will be looking for its second national championship to go with the one the Irish won in 2001.
Napheesa Collier finished with 24 points for the Huskies. Azura Stevens chipped in 19.