COLUMBUS, Ohio — Arike Ogunbowale hit the shot of her life.
Ogunbowale’s three-pointer from the right corner with one-tenth of a second left gave Notre Dame a thrilling 61-58 win over Mississippi State in the women’s NCAA Tournament championship game Sunday night.
Two days earlier, Ogunbowale’s jumper with one second remaining in overtime knocked off previously unbeaten Connecticut in the semifinals.
With Sunday’s game tied, Ogunbowale took an inbounds pass from Jackie Young, dribbled twice toward the right corner and sank an off-balance three-pointer over 6-1 Victoria Vivians from in front of the Notre Dame bench. It was close to the spot on the court where she had gone one-on-one with UConn’s Napheesa Collier and beaten the Huskies, and it was only the second made three-pointer of the game for the Irish.
“It just felt right,” said Ogunbowale, who scored 16 of her 18 points in the second half. “I practice late-game all the time. I just ran to Jackie and said, ‘Throw it to me, throw it to me.’ ”
Ogunbowale was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, and no one could have argued.
Notre Dame — which managed only three points in the second quarter — pulled off the biggest comeback in women’s title game history. The Fighting Irish rallied from a 15-point third-quarter deficit to tie it, then trailed by five before Marina Mabrey sank a three-pointer with 1:36 left and Young hit a shot in the lane to tie it with 45 seconds left.
“We didn’t get two stops when we needed to get stops,” Mississippi State’s Blair Schaefer said.
Her father, coach Vic Schaefer, took every bit of the blame. “You’re up five with 1:40 [left], it’s my job to get them home, and I didn’t get them home,” he said. “I’ll wear that maybe for the rest of my career.”
His daughter wouldn’t hear of it. “He’s always been accountable and always takes everything on his shoulders, so I think one time we have to accept that we didn’t make that one more,” she said. “I’m just proud of him for getting us back here and being able to experience this.”
Jess Shepard’s 19 points led the Irish (35-3). Vivians scored 21 points and 6-7 Teaira McCowan had 18 points and 17 rebounds for Mississippi State (37-2).
Notre Dame’s title came 17 years to the day after its only other championship. “It’s Easter Sunday, and all the Catholics were praying for us,” said coach Muffet McGraw, who earned her 800th win at Notre Dame and 888th overall.
McGraw’s teams had fallen short four times in seven years in the title game, losing in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. This time, despite losing four players to ACL injuries during the season, Notre Dame could not be denied.
For the fourth straight NCAA game, the Irish found themselves trailing at the half. Mississippi State led 30-17 at halftime and extended its lead to 40-25, but Notre Dame closed its 24-point third quarter with a 16-1 run, and the fourth quarter began with the score tied at 41.
“We were right there,” Mississippi State’s Jazzmun Holmes said, “and we couldn’t finish it up.”
Last year, Mississippi State ended UConn’s winning streak at 111 games on Morgan William’s jumper in overtime before falling to South Carolina in the title game. “This is the toughest, most resilient team I’ve ever seen,” Vic Schaefer said. “Their competitive fire and competitive spirit is second to none.”
Shepard felt the same way about her own squad. “This team,’’ she said, “is relentlessly driven. We’ve been down multiple times this year, but nobody stops us.’’