Most basketball players dream of hitting a game-winning shot, but Arike Ogunbowale of Notre Dame made two in three days, one of which gave her team the NCAA Women’s Championship. It was the conclusion of a season that was wrought with adversity.
It was the second NCAA Title for Irish coach Muffet McGraw, and the game also marked her 800th career victory. Her first national championship came in 2001. The 17 years between championships nearly doubled the previous record span set by Tennessee, who won in 1998 and then again in 2007.
“She had to fight for this. She had to do the most coaching she has ever done in a season here,” junior guard Marina Mabrey said after the game. “I’m just really happy we were able to give her a national championship.”
Though they were ranked No. 5 in the AP Top 25 poll, Notre Dame was never considered a serious contender for the National Championship. They had had four players out since last year with knee injuries and it left them with just seven scholarship players.
They managed to compile a 29-2 record during the regular season, but lost to Louisville in the ACC Championship.
The team wasn’t even sure they would get a No. 1 seed for the tournament. McGraw believed her squad should receive a top seed. They did and began their quest to reach the Final Four.
UConn was the No. 1 overall seed and the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament. The internet betting site 5Dimes had the Huskies -530 to win and the rest of the field +350.
When UConn and Notre Dame met in the semifinal, the Huskies were a 9.5-point favorite to beat the Irish. UConn had won seven straight games against Notre Dame and six of those wins were decided by 10 or more points. The only one that wasn’t was a nine-point victory in December.
The team overcame blowing a five-point lead with less than a minute in regulation. The teams were tied in overtime and with less than a second remaining, Ogunbowale hit a jumper from the corner to end UConn’s undefeated season.
There was no time to rest on that miraculous victory, however. The team had to prepare for Mississippi State, who were a 1.5-point favorite in the title game.
The Bulldogs were led by 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan, who shattered the record for most rebounds in a Final Four semifinal game against Louisville with 25. She followed up that performance in the finals with 18 points and 17 rebounds in the finals, before fouling out in the last three seconds of the game, when she intentionally fouled the Irish to prevent a breakaway layup for the championship.
But Ogunbowale was setting a record of her own. Her 145 points in the NCAA Tournament broke the record held by Candice Wiggins since 2008.
It was her last three points, however, that she and college basketball fans will never forget. With the Irish tied 58-58 and three seconds remaining, Ogunbowale got the inbound pass and with a hand in her face threw up a 3-point shot that hit the back of the net as time expired.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Ogunbowale said after the game. “To win a national title like that for my team, it’s crazy.”
NOTRE DAME… WOW pic.twitter.com/Vs3uR9a9nx
— NCAA Women's BKB (@ncaawbb) April 2, 2018