Ogunbowale stuns UConn in OT as Irish advance to national title game
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Notre Dame women's basketball has shocked the college hoops world all season long, and that trend continues all the way to the national championship game.
On the heels of Arike Ogunbowale's game-winning jumpshot with one second to play in overtime, the Irish knocked off previously unbeaten UConn, 91-89, to advance to Sunday's title game against Mississippi State.
“I work at this in practice and when I’m in the gym by myself on game-winning shots. It just felt right," said Ogunbowale, who scored 22 of her 27 points in the second half and overtime. "[We won] as a team with the defense we played and the rebounds we got. We couldn’t have done it if we didn’t have each other.”
“They put their best defender on her," said head coach Muffet McGraw of the final sequence. "They gave her a little space, so she didn’t have to drive. She didn’t force it. Just went up and took the perfect shot. I knew it was in as soon as it left her hand.”
While Ogunbowale hit the shot that Notre Dame fans will remember long after this season, the Irish may not have been in position to win without the breakout performance from Jackie Young.
The sophomore guard exploded for a career-high 32 points to go along with 11 rebounds. Young was a key in Notre Dame's strong start, jumping out to a 10-point lead after the first quarter.
“Everyone doubted us. We were just able to come together, play together, just play for the ones that weren’t able to play and I think that showed tonight.”
“She doesn’t shoot a lot," said Ogunbowale. "We told her before the game, ‘Jackie shoot it. You’re a great shooter.’ We’ve seen it in practice all day and that’s what she did.”
That first quarter lead was quickly erased by the Huskies, generating an eerily familiar feeling for Irish fans after a fourth quarter lead was squandered at Connecticut back in December's loss.
After Notre Dame lost the lead in the second quarter and heading into halftime, the two teams traded punches throughout the second half. The Irish took a five-point lead with 20 seconds to play in regulation, before a stunning sequence saw the Huskies force overtime with the teams knotted at 79.
But as they've done all season long, the Irish proved they were up to any task thrown their way.
“The story of our season was, 'Can we get a stop?' Tonight we finally did it," said junior Marina Mabrey. "I still don’t think we played defense for 40 minutes again. I don’t know if we just can’t do it or what it is, but somehow we seemed to pull it out.”
With the last-second win, Muffet McGraw's squad earns its sixth trip to the National Championship. Through all the injuries and adversity they've experienced, McGraw said the Irish have always set their sights on winning a title.
"That’s always been our goal," she said. "To get there with this team, you can’t take anything for granted. You have to take advantage of every opportunity and this team has done that.”
The title matchup between Notre Dame and Mississippi State, who also won an overtime game against Louisville in the night's first semifinal, is set to tip at 6 p.m. on Sunday night.
ABC 57 will have continued coverage throughout the weekend.