The 2019 Women’s March Madness Final Four began in Tampa on Friday and #1 Baylor and the Lady Bears defeated #2 Oregon 72-67 in one semifinal game, and Arike Ogunbowale and #1 Notre Dame defeated #2 UCONN 81-76 in the other semifinal.
On Sunday evening, #1 Baylor (36-1) will battle #1 Notre Dame (35-3) for this women’s college basketball championship. Notre Dame is seeking back-to-back championships after winning the 2018 title. They knocked out UCONN two years in a row.
Baylor is seeking their first championship since 2012. The Lady Bears won 28 games in a row with only one loss this season.
Baylor’s path to the championship game included a Final Four game against Sabrina Ionescu and Oregon (33-5). Ionescu is one of the most exciting players in college basketball. Her games saw a huge boost in attendance over the last couple of seasons. Everyone was excited to see her play before she goes pro. Ionescu is expected to become the #1 pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft. In the meantime, she led the Ducks to a Final Four berth.
The Lady Bears used their size advantage to pound the ball inside. The undersized Oregon Ducks relied heavily on the three-point shot to keep them in the game. At one point, Oregon had tied the game late in the third quarter with their tenth trey of the game, while Baylor had hit zero at that point.
With the game tied with a minute to go, Ionescu drove to the basket on consecutive possessions but was unable to convert layups. The refs missed a foul with Baylor down four, but at that point it was too late. Baylor held on for a five-point win. They won but didn’t cover the six-point spread.
Ionescu struggled from the floor, but she finished with 18 points on 6-for-24 shooting, including 4-for-11 from downtown. She added 6 assists and 4 rebounds.
Baylor’s frontline destroyed Oregon. Lauren Cox posted a double-double with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists. Kalani Brown led all scorers with 22 points. She missed only three shots all night. Brown and Cox combined for 18-for-26 from the floor.
UCONN (35-3) found themselves up against the Arike Ogunbowale and the defending champs in the semifinals. The Lady Huskies went into the locker room at halftime with a one-point lead over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
UCONN’s Katie Lou Samuelson got off to a slow start in the Final Four and posted a donut in the first half. She waited until the second half to unleash a scoring barrage. She dropped 15 in the third quarter alone. In 12 minutes of action, she scored 18 points. With 8 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Samuelson drilled a three-pointer to put UCONN up five points.
With five minutes to go and UCONN up six, Arike Ogunbowale led an aerial counterattack. Ogunbowale nailed a huge three-pointer to cut the lead in half. Marina Mabrey followed up with another trey to tie the score at 66 with 4:20 remaining.
Over the next three minutes, the lead changed seven times as the two teams traded blows. Notre Dame went up 74-73 with ninety seconds to go, but outscored UCONN 9-2 to close out the game 81-76.
Ogunbowale led all scorers with 23 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter. She went a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line including a couple of clutch free throws late in the game.
“I don’t think it was any mystery who was going to be taking the majority of their shots in the fourth quarter,” said UCONN coach Geno Auriemma. “That’s the way they’ve always played since Arike has been there. She still has to make those shots, and she did. She’s an almost impossible matchup one-on-one, you know. We knew that going in.”
Jessica Shepherd and Brianna Turner posted a double-doubles for Notre Dame. Shepherd scored 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Turner added 15 points and hauled down 15 rebounds.
Samuelson finished with 20 points in a losing effort for UCONN.
Only Baylor stands in the way of Notre Dame winning consecutive championships. A pair of #1 seeds will battle in the championship game, which will take place in Tampa on Sunday at 6pm ET.