TAMPA, Fla. - Madison Cable hadn't scored a point all night, and Hannah Huffman had played only five minutes without taking a shot. But the two reserves came up huge in the final 20 seconds for Notre Dame.
They helped the Fighting Irish hold off South Carolina in a battle of No. 1 seeds and advance to Tuesday night's national championship game against Connecticut with a 66-65 semifinal win Sunday night at Amalie Arena.
Notre Dame (36-2) hadn't scored in more than seven minutes, and South Carolina had gone on a 13-0 run to go ahead 65-64 with 1:14 left -- its first lead of the game.
But Notre Dame had an answer. After a missed shot, Cable hustled below the basket for an offensive rebound and hit a putback to grab the lead back with 18 seconds left. Huffman then delivered on defense, keeping South Carolina star Tiffany Mitchell (11 points) from getting a clear shot at the buzzer.
"I guess it was a good time to get my two points in the game," Cable said after Notre Dame's bench was outscored 39-4 before her winning shot.
Notre Dame is playing in the championship game for the fourth time in five years. It lost to Connecticut in last year's final. In 2011 and 2012, Notre Dame beat UConn in the national semifinals, only to lose in the championship game to Texas A&M and then Baylor.
Notre Dame, which won it all in 2001, got 55 of its 66 points from three key players. Guard Jewell Loyd, whose miss was collected by Cable for the game-winner, had 22 points. Forwards Brianna Turner and Taya Reimer had 17 and 16, respectively.
"Our bench has been terrific all year long," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I have a lot of confidence in all of those players. Hannah, for the biggest play of the game, to put her in, I told her, 'I trust you. I have confidence in you.' "
South Carolina (34-3) fell behind 15-3 but clawed back several times, only to see Notre Dame answer. South Carolina finally grabbed the lead with 1:14 left on a putback by Aleighsa Welch (10 points, 14 rebounds).
A'ja Wilson had 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Alaina Coates added 12 points and nine rebounds.
"Any time you face your season ending, it's a tough pill to swallow," said Welch, emotional after seeing her college career end, too. "I think a lot of people thought we were down and out in the second half."