Arike Ogunbowale sinks a game winning 3-pointer for the Fighting Irish to claim the national championship against the Bulldogs.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the second straight game, Arike Ogunbowale made a game-winning shot, this one with 0.1 seconds left, as Notre Dame beat Mississippi State 61-58 to win the national championship on Sunday.
Two days ago, Ogunbowale made a jumper with a second left in overtime to beat UConn. In the title game Sunday, she did one better with a 3-pointer over Victoria Vivians as the clock ticked near zero. Notre Dame scored the game’s last eight points to win its second national championship and the first since 2001.
Ogunbowale’s winner came after a wild sequence with the score tied; both teams got steals with less than 20 seconds to play. The Irish’s final possession came after Marina Mabrey knocked the ball away from Mississippi State point guard Morgan William at midcourt. Notre Dame’s Jackie Young grabbed the loose ball and the Bulldogs’ Teaira McCowan grabbed Young. Had she not, Ogunbowale’s heroics might have come three seconds earlier as she was wide open under the basket.
That set up the Notre Dame inbounds play after a pair of timeouts and the game winner.
Player of the game: Ogunbowale is not only the player of this game, but her two game-winning shots will go down as legend at Notre Dame. It was a rough night for the junior, who finished 6-of-21 from the field and was 1-of-10 in a bad first half for Notre Dame, which trailed 30-17 at the break.
Ogunbowale finished with 18 points, 16 in the second half, and her relentless driving to the basket became the Irish’s offense in the second half. Ogunbowale’s title-winning shot was just Notre Dame’s second made 3-pointer of the game. After starting 0-for-7 from downtown, the Irish made their last two 3-pointers, with Mabrey hitting one with 1:33 left to draw them within 58-56.
At the Final Four, all 15 of the 5-foot-8 Ogunbowale’s made field goals were contested shots. Her two game winners came over the outstretched arms of 6-foot-1 Napeheesa Collier and the 6-1 Vivians. In Notre Dame’s last two games, Ogunbowale averaged 3.5 PPG in the first half and 19.0 PPG in the second half/overtime.
Honorable mention goes to Jessica Shepard. Notre Dame’s junior post player was the best player on the floor for much of the second half and finished with 19 points, 12 of which came after halftime. She made 8-of-10 field goals battling the 6-7 McCowan.
McCowan had a tougher shooting night than usual, going 7-of-19. But she finished with 17 points and 18 rebounds for her 29th double-double of the season. She finished the tournament with a record 109 rebounds. The previous record for a single NCAA tournament was 75.
The Irish receive the women’s NCAA national championship trophy 17 years to the day after their last national title.
How it was won: Notre Dame overcame a dreadful first half in which it was held to a season-low 17 points. The Irish managed just three points in the second quarter. They shot 30 percent in the first half and had 12 turnovers. Yet they managed to stay in the game, and for the seventh time this season came back from a double-digit deficit to win.
Ogunbowale’s aggressiveness and Shepard’s patience on offense keyed a 16-1 third-quarter run. The score was knotted 41-41 entering the final period.
Mabrey had 10 points in the game, and none were bigger than the 3-pointer she made with a minute and a half left. Then a short jumper from Young tied the score again after Mississippi State had opened up a five-point lead with 1:57 left. Young, who had 32 points in the semifinal win over UConn, struggled all night and finished with six.
The lineup Vic Schaefer used largely in the first half, with Jazzmun Holmes and Jordan Danberry playing instead of starters Blair Schaefer and William in the backcourt, continued to do such a good job defensively and stalled Mississippi State’s offense in the second half. The Bulldogs had to rely almost exclusively on Vivians and McCowan, who combined for 18 of Mississippi State’s 28 points after halftime.
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw says her team came out with a new belief in the second half which lead them to the comeback win in the national championship game.
Stat of the game: McCowan still got her numbers, but she wasn’t nearly as impactful in this game as she was in the other five Mississippi State tournament games. When Notre Dame double-teamed her, McCowan made just 1-of-8 shots.
Vivians led all scorers with 21 points, but took only two shots in the fourth quarter, making one.
What’s Next: Notre Dame wins its second national title and brings back its entire starting lineup except Kathryn Westbeld next season, and gets All-American forward Brianna Turner, who was one of four Notre Dame players lost to ACL tears.
Mississippi State becomes the sixth team to lose back-to-back NCAA title games. Vic Schaefer’s six teams in Starkville have improved each season until losing this one. He says goodbye to Vivians, William Roshunda Johnsnon, Blair Schaefer, the winningest senior class in school history. The win marked the 800th at Notre Dame for coach Muffet McGraw.