The Notre Dame Fighting Irish led an unbelievable comeback to steal the National Championship from Mississippi State, 61-58 on another incredible game-winner from Arike Ogunbowale. It didn’t look possible that the Irish could come back in this one, after a miserable first-half showing in which the Irish’s entire offense was out of rhythm.
But Ogunbowale, who hit the game-winner to beat UConn in the Final Four, did it again.
The Irish had one of their worst quarters of the entire season in that half, scoring all of THREE points in the second. The Bulldogs held them scoreless for eight straight minutes. That should have spelled doom.
But a 16-1 run in the third quarter led the Irish to tie the game, and Notre Dame never looked back. Their championship run was nothing short of amazing, following up an overtime win against debatably the best UConn team ever with an improbable comeback at the buzzer in the title game.
This win was special for head coach Muffet McGraw.
So how’d they do it?
The Irish got Bulldogs center Teaira McCowan in foul trouble
McCowan is a 6’7 dominant force in the paint who not only gets her work done scoring down low, but prevents you from doing the same. She’s a shot-swatting presence who alters shots in any way she can.
That’s what caused problems for Notre Dame in the opening half.
Arike Ogunbowale and Jackie Young were Notre Dame’s top scorers in the win against UConn, and found most of their success driving down the lane and finishing over the rim, or getting to the foul line.That wasn’t happening with McCowan in the way. Young and Ogunbowale combined for 2-of-12 shooting and four points in the opening half.
Her foul trouble was huge, and forced her to sit minutes at the end of the third, which is a rarity. She had missed just four minutes all tournament.
A scattered offense worked
Holly Rowe asked Mississippi State head coach Vic Shaefer what Notre Dame’s offense was doing in the third quarter, and he said they’d “ditched their offense.”
He was right.
This wasn’t the well-composed offense of the Final Four that saw Young and Ogunbowale trade buckets inside and out. They ran the floor and went with the flow of the game, because what The Irish lacked in size, they had in speed against McCowan. The Bulldogs center wasn’t going to match Ogunbowale and company on the break, and the Irish took advantage.
This game should have been an easier win for Notre Dame. They missed a number of transition layups. But they got the job done on Ogunbowale’s 18 points, and Marina Mabrey’s 10 points.
Jessica Shepard was the anchor
Shepard had the impossible task of trying to score against McCowan and also defending her. She did what she could on the defensive end, but most impressively, she kept finding ways to score when her team REALLY needed her to.
The Nebraska transfer found success in the mid-range, and came up clutch with 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting. She really made up for Young and Ogunbowale’s off-shooting night.
This was a spectacular run for McGraw’s group, which faced FOUR players tearing their ACL throughout the season. Notre Dame had no business being in a position to win a title, but everyone stepped up at the perfect time.
What better way to win it all than an upset over an undefeated UConn team followed by a huge comeback to beat the one-loss Mississippi State Bulldogs?