How do you top a long jumper in the Final Four to beat UConn with a second left?
You hit an even longer one from a similar spot at the buzzer to win the national championship of the best Women’s Final Four ever.
Notre Dame’s second-team All-American Arike Ogunbowale swished a 3-pointer with a hand in her face as time nearly expired, giving the Irish their second NCAA title with a 61-58 win against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had to return from the locker room after the officials reviewed the made shot and put a tenth of a second back on the Nationwide Arena clock, but it wasn’t enough time for MSU.
“That last play, there was just a lot going on,” said Ogunbowale, who had struggled from the floor for much of the game. “I can’t even describe it.”
The Irish (35-3) had last won the national title in 2001 but lost four trips to the championship game in a five-year span between 2011 and 2015. Now the Bulldogs have lost consecutive title games.
The 17-year space between Irish titles nearly doubles Tennessee’s record 9-year gap between 1998 and 2007. Notre Dame became the seventh school to win multiple championships.
The Irish completed the biggest comeback in the history of the championship game, passing Louisiana Tech’s 14-point rally against Auburn in 1988. Mississippi State (37-2) led 40-25 with six minutes left in the third quarter, but the Irish scored 16 of the last 17 points of the period to pull even.
Notre Dame even overcame a Final Four record-low three-point second quarter, part of a 26-7 Mississippi State run that gave the Bulldogs a 30-17 halftime advantage.
“I’m just so speechless at this point,” McGraw said. “To see this team come back from yet another huge deficit, to see Arike make an incredible shot, to see the resilience of a team that never gave up.”
Mississippi State also led 58-53 with 1:58 left, but junior guard Marina Mabrey answered with Notre Dame’s first 3-pointer and sophomore guard Jackie Young tied it with a short turnaround jumper off the glass.
After MSU superstar center Teaira McCowan missed on the ensuing possession, Notre Dame tried to hold for the last shot. Mabrey turned it over and then bumped MSU’s Morgan William at midcourt but wasn’t whistled for a foul. Instead McCowan had to foul out with three seconds left to prevent a potential game-winning layup.
“No whistle, so it wasn’t a foul,” William said of the contact with Mabrey. MSU coach Vic Schaefer said he was screaming for a timeout as well.
McCowan grabbed 109 rebounds in the NCAA tournament, shattering Janel McCarville’s previous record of 75.
“It’s always been my philosophy, up four, down four, as a head coach, it’s my job to get them home inside of four minutes,” Schaefer said. “And I didn’t get them home today. I’ll wear that maybe for the rest of my career.”
Notre Dame again used only six players, as four team members have suffered season-ending knee injuries. Its top four scorers are expected to return in 2018-19.
Ogunbowale now has two of maybe the four biggest shots in women’s basketball history, along with MSU’s William, who snapped Connecticut’s 111-game win streak at the overtime buzzer in last year’s Final Four. North Carolina’s Charlotte Smith made a 3-pointer at the buzzer off an inbounds pass with 0.7 seconds left to beat Louisiana Tech 60-59 for the 1994 championship.
The miraculous finish Sunday came after a fun Twitter exchange between Ogunbowale and Kobe Bryant, who was in attendance at the Women’s Final Four. Notre Dame had beaten undefeated UConn in similar fashion on Friday – with another Ogunbowale game-winning shot in the waning seconds – and Kobe had congratulated the Irish junior with a tweet before cautioning that the job wasn’t done yet.
After another game-winning shot, Kobe only had one thing to say:
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