Columbus – Arike Ogunbowale’s buzzer-beater that sent Notre Dame past Connecticut in overtime Friday in the National Championship semifinal had a familiar look to it.
Just 364 days before, a last-second overtime shot – from almost the same spot on the floor – as time expired in the semis gave Mississippi State the upset win over the Huskies.
This time, the Irish dealt the fatal blow to UConn for a 91-89 win that not only seemed fluke-free but miraculous, considering that 34-3 Notre Dame lost four starters this season to ACL tears.
“I didn’t think we’d have more ACL tears than losses,” coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think it’s just an amazing accomplishment for this team, and the resilience they’ve shown all year.”
Jackie Young led the Irish with 32 points and 11 rebounds, while Ogunbowale scored 27 points and Jessica Shepard put up 15 points and grabbed 11 boards.
Notre Dame roared out to a 24-11 lead with less than one minute left in the first quarter. But in the second, Azura Stevens, Gabby Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson went to work for the Huskies to even the score at 26 by the 6:31 mark. They led 41-34 at halftime.
The third quarter saw the Irish doing the clawing back. A Marina Mabrey three-point shot with 2:21 left gave them the lead, but UConn had a 60-57 advantage going into the final frame.
Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield helped run the Husky lead up to eight with 6:49 remaining, but Ogunbowale and Young ignited a Notre Dame run that finally won them the lead back with over three minutes to go, which they turned into a 79-74 lead with 21 seconds left. But a Collier three-pointer and a Kia Nurse layup sent the game into overtime.
The extra period was a deja vu of the fourth quarter, with the Irish mounting an 89-84 lead and seeing it evaporate after shots from Collier and Dangerfield to tie the game with 27 seconds to go. The Irish were able to run the clock down, and pulled off a last-second play that wasn’t in the original game plan.
“We switched who was going to take the ball out two or three times, me and Jackie,” Ogunbowale said. “And then Jess had the open lane, and Marina got it. And I was like, I guess I’ll go get it, and my team trusted me to have the ball at the end.”
Collier led five UConn players in double figures with 24 points, while Stevens had 19 and Samuelson had 16. Each team put only six players on the floor.
The two teams had faced each other 48 times in the tenures of McGraw and Husky coach Geno Auriemma, including five times in the national semifinal. Notre Dame is 4-1 in that series.
“This one, I mean, 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.”
Auriemma and his players seemed shocked by the loss, which was their first of the season.
“Some things just don’t need explanations, you know,” he said. “You can’t really describe what goes into, what goes into getting here and trying to win a championship. It’s very, very difficult. For a long, long time we made it look like it was easy, but it’s very, very difficult, as it’s played out the last two years.”
“For us to make the plays that we made to tie the game in regulation, then have a chance to win it and to tie the game in overtime, I mean, that’s k ind of – that’s what Connecticut basketball is all about. But they made one more big play than we did tonight.”
The Irish face Mississippi State in the National Championship game Sunday.