Notre Dame women fall just short of national championship repeat
TAMPA, Fla. — Notre Dame conjured up another one of the signature rallies it needed.
The Irish even had the player at the line they most wanted.
Yet, they couldn’t finish off the back-to-back national titles and the accompanying legacy they had heartily come to crave for themselves.
Baylor, benefiting from a missed free throw by Ice-Twice queen Arike Ogunbowale with 1.9 seconds left, dethroned Notre Dame 82-81 in Sunday night’s chilling NCAA Tournament women’s basketball championship at sold-out Amalie Arena.
Ogunbowale, unable to summon the residue from her legendary feats of a year earlier — two buzzer-beating game-winners in one Final Four — saw her first of two freebies teasingly dance on the rim before falling wide with her team down 82-80.
Then she made the second one for the final count when she was trying to miss with a line drive so that the Irish could have a shot at the rebound.
The Bears (37-1) then inbounded. Notre Dame (35-4) fouled, but it was only the team’s fourth of the quarter.
That took the clock to 0.3, and Baylor inbounded again, draining the clock before the Irish could commit another foul.
Possibly nobody in an arena with 20,127 fans appeared more shocked than Ogunbowale upon on her miss. Her jaw plummeted and her eyes widened as the shot rimmed out.
“I mean, it’s tough,” said Ogunbowale, who had been 33-of-36 at the line during this postseason before the miss. “You can’t really do anything about that one.”
“The game didn’t come down to that free throw,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
“I mean the game was 40 minutes,” McGraw said. “There were plenty of mistakes we made throughout the game that caused us to lose, most notably the first quarter. (We) just didn’t come out ready.”
Chloe Jackson scored 26 points, more than doubling her season average, and dealt five assists as Baylor won its third championship and stayed perfect in title games.
Fellow senior Kalani Brown added 20 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman forward NaLyssa Smith came off the bench to riddle the Irish with 14 points, one off her season high, and go 7-of-9 from the field.
“Lauren Cox, she’s the heart and soul of our team,” Bears coach Kim Mulkey said of the junior star Baylor lost to a knee injury with 1:22 remaining in the third quarter, “ … but you know what, God is good. He blessed these kids. They fought through it.”
Ogunbowale led all scorers with 31 points, finishing her record-shattering career with 2,626. Teammate Marina Mabrey poured in 12 of her 21 in the fourth quarter, hitting 3-of-4 from distance during that period.
Irish bigs Brianna Turner (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Jessica Sheppard (11 and 10, all of the 11 points in the second half) closed their Irish careers with double-doubles.
Jackie Young, the lone junior in a storied lineup of those above four seniors, struggled with just four points, going 1-of-8 from the field. She added a game-high six assists.
Young said after the game that she has not decided if she’ll declare early for the WNBA draft.
She has until Monday evening to decide.
“They punched us from the beginning,” Mabrey said of the physical Bears, “like almost everyone does, but they kept on punching. We finally punched back, but it took too long.
“I think coming back took a lot out of us and I just think mentally we were not able to make that stop.
“Obviously, it hard to look at the big picture right now,” Mabrey added, “but I know that us seniors have done a lot for this program. We did bring a national championship — we should have brought two.”
It took the Irish just 4:19 to fall into their deepest hole of the tournament to that point at 13-3. Baylor stretched the spread to a high of 33-16 by 3:22 into the second quarter.
ND chipped the gap down to 33-25 later in the period, but trailed 43-31 at the half.
The Bears continually threatened to blow the game open in the third period, taking 14-point leads on eight occasions.
The Irish entered the final quarter down 66-55, but immediately began to melt the deficit with the first eight points of the period.
A Mabrey 3-pointer with 5:17 to go yielded the game’s first tie at 74-74 with 5:17 to go. Then Ogunbowale made a free throw at 3:18 to give ND its first lead since 3-2.
With the Irish trailing 80-78 at just 16 seconds to go, Shepard swished each of two free throws to knot the game.
Jackson then drove for what proved the game-winner at 3.9 seconds left before the Irish got the ball inside mid-court with a timeout, then opted to have Ogunbowale drive to the basket.
That led to the 1-of-2 free throws.
Baylor, which also beat the Irish in the 2012 championship, closed the season with 29 straight wins.
Mulkey joined only Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma as coaches with at least three NCAA Division I women’s titles.
McGraw was denied her third.
The Irish were seeking their 1,000th all-time program win, but stand at 999-333.
ND’s starting five finished with 10,230 career points, the most by any quintet in men’s or women’s Division I history.
Both Ogunbowale and Mabrey were named to the All-Final Four team alongside Baylor's Chloe Jackson, most outstanding player, Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox.
Baylor 82, Notre Dame 81
NOTRE DAME (81): Jessica Shepard 11, Brianna Turner 12, Arike Ogunbowale 31, Jackie Young 4, Marina Mabrey 21, Abby Prohaska 0, Mikayla Vaughn 2. TOTALS 28-72 18-22 81
BAYLOR (82): Lauren Cox 8, Kalani Brown 20, Chloe Jackson 26, Juicy Landrum 8, Didi Richards 6, NaLyssa Smith 14. Moon Ursin 0. TOTALS 39-73 2-7 82
3-point: ND 7-13 (Mabrey 4-8, Ogunbowale 3-5). Baylor 2-7 (Landrum). Rebounds: ND 43 (Turner 12, Shepard 10). Baylor 38 (Brown 13). Fouls (fouled out): ND 13 (none), Baylor 20 (Smith)