Arike Ogunbowale drained a rainbow 3-pointer from the right corner with 0.1 seconds to play, lifting Notre Dame to a dramatic 61-58 win in the women’s NCAA Tournament championship game on Sunday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Taking an inbounds pass in a tie game with three seconds left, Ogunbowale drove into the right corner before firing up a high-arcing 3-pointer that was pure to give the Fighting Irish their first national championship since 2001.
“On Easter Sunday, all the Catholics were out there praying for us,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said in a postgame interview with ESPN. “We needed all of it.”
Mississippi State held Notre Dame to three points in the second quarter. The Bulldogs led by 15 in the third quarter and were up five with 2:01 to play, but they weren’t able to put away the resilient Fighting Irish.
“It’s my job to bring them home,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “I didn’t do that. I’ll wear that, maybe for the rest of my career.”
In the final minutes, Notre Dame’s Marina Mabrey hit a 3-pointer and Jackie Young knocked down a jumper to tie the score 58-58 and set up Ogunbowale’s heroics.
Jessica Shepard finished with 19 points for Notre Dame (35-3). Ogunbowale had 18, and Mabrey added 10.
“I work for this in practice,” Ogunbowale said. “I practice late-game (shots) all the time. I just ran to Jackie (Young) and said, ‘Throw it to me, throw it to me.'”
Victoria Vivians scored 21 points, and Teaira McCowan capped a record-setting women’s NCAA Tournament with 18 points and 17 rebounds for the Bulldogs (37-2). Mississippi State lost in the national championship game for the second straight season.
McCowan recorded her 29th double-double of the season. The 6-foot-7 junior finished the tournament with a record 109 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ six-game run to the final.
The game featured the last two teams to knock off the Connecticut dynasty. Mississippi State beat UConn in last year’s Final Four but came up short against South Carolina in the championship game. Notre Dame outlasted the Huskies in overtime on Friday, with Ogunbowale hitting the game-winner in the semifinal as well.
Notre Dame averaged 92.4 points in its previous five tournament wins but struggled to establish any rhythm against Mississippi State’s pestering man-to-man defense. The Fighting Irish trailed 30-17 at halftime, as their three second-quarter points were the fewest in a period in Final Four history.
McCowan had a big hand in Notre Dame’s offensive woes. She had nine points, eight rebounds and two authoritative blocks in the first half. During one stretch midway through the second, she hit a jumper on one end and then blocked an attempted layup from Mabrey that led to a turnover. Mississippi State forced 12 first-half turnovers.
“We did so many things wrong in the first half,” McGraw said. “We just came out (of halftime) with a new belief, a new motivation.”
Notre Dame stormed back in the third quarter. Ogunbowale converted a three-point play with a driving layup and free throw to trim Mississippi State’s lead to 41-38 late in the third quarter. The Irish closed out the quarter with a 16-1 run, tying the score 41-41 on a put-back by Shepard.
–Field Level Media