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Arike Ogunbowale encore! Final Four hero lifts Notre Dame to NCAA title

Semifinal star hits another buzzer beater
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Posted at 5:29 AM, Apr 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-02 05:41:33-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Arike Ogunbowale put an exclamation point on a thrilling women's FInal Four.

Her off-balance 3-pointer in the title game capped a record comeback by Notre Dame and an incredible weekend for the sport. The Final Four got started with two stirring overtime games — the first time that's happened. The weekend ended with a historic championship game that left the sellout crowd amazed.

"Phenomenal for women's basketball. Three exciting games. I hope the ratings reflect it," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said after the 61-58 win Sunday night. "The crowd was tremendous tonight. Everybody came back. Just an incredible job by Columbus and the local community. Great support for women's basketball and definitely one of the best Final Fours since 2001, right?"

That was the only other time McGraw and the Irish cut down the nets. It's been even longer since a title game came down to a last-second shot. Ogunbowale's 3-pointer was just the second last-second shot that won a championship game. North Carolina great Charlotte Smith made a 3-pointer at the buzzer in 1994 that lifted the Tar Heels to an improbable one-point win over Louisiana Tech.

This Final Four belonged to Ogunbowale and the Irish.

The junior guard floated in a 3-pointer from the corner with 0.1 seconds left, lifting Notre Dame to its second women's basketball title with a thrilling comeback victory over Mississippi State.

"It just felt right," said Ogunbowale, who scored 16 of her 18 points in the second half. "I practice late-game all the time. ... I just ran to Jackie and said, 'Throw it to me, throw it to me.'"

It was the second straight game that she hit a shot in the final second to carry the Irish. Her jumper with one second remaining in overtime knocked off previously unbeaten UConn in the semifinals Friday.

Her winner Friday came in front of former NBA great Kobe Bryant. The two had a Twitter exchange after that shot. He tweeted again at her on Sunday night after her championship-winner.

"Wow!" Bryant wrote, using the hashtags #lifecomplete and #MambaMentality

"Columbus has been a fantastic host. They've been incredible at all the events. The games have been incredible. The fans have been fantastic," women's basketball committee chair Rhonda Bennett said. "You can't go anywhere without people talking about the women's Final Four and supporting our game."

They had a lot to enjoy, especially Irish fans.

Ogunbowale's shot capped the biggest comeback in NCAA championship history. They rallied from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter and were down five in the final 1:58. Marina Mabrey hit a 3-pointer from the wing and Young had a shot in the lane to tie it.

The title came 17 years to the day after Notre Dame (35-3) won its only other championship in 2001 on Easter.

"It's Easter Sunday, and all the Catholics were praying for us," said McGraw, who was wearing floral shoes in honor of the holiday.

When the final buzzer sounded, a wild celebration started with the Irish faithful who were part of the sellout crowd. McGraw's team had fallen short four times in seven years in the title game, losing in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. Many of the Notre Dame alums who were on teams that had fallen just short of winning a title were there to enjoy it, including Natalie Achonwa, Natalie Novosel and Becca Bruszewki

This version of McGraw's squad refused to lose, and the run was even more improbable because the Irish lost four players over the season to ACL injuries.

"There's been so many great teams and so many players here with us celebrating in the locker room just now, all the former players," McGraw said. "And we talked about how we've done it for all of them that weren't able to finish the job. So this team is really special just because of their personality."

With the score tied as the clock ran down, Mississippi State star Teaira McCowan missed a layup with 27.8 seconds left, and both teams turned the ball over in a wild sequence. McCowan fouled out of the game stopping an Irish fast break after consecutive turnovers and that set up the final 3 seconds.

After Ogunbowale's clutch shot, the officials huddled and put one-tenth of a second on the clock. A couple of Mississippi State players had already headed for the locker room, while Notre Dame players celebrated.

The court was cleared, and Mississippi State tossed a futile inbounds pass into the lane as the buzzer sounded.

"It hurts right now," Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer said. "They played their hearts out."

It was the second year in a row that Mississippi State (37-2) fell short in the title game. It lost to South Carolina last year after ending UConn's record 111-game winning streak.

For the fourth straight NCAA game, the Irish found themselves trailing at the half. They were down 40-25 early in the third quarter before finally getting on track offensively. The Irish closed the period with a 16-1 run to tie the game at 41 heading to the final quarter.

The Irish were buoyed by severe foul trouble by Mississippi State that saw all five of its starters with three fouls in the third quarter.

It didn't look good for the Irish in the first half. After getting out to a 12-6 lead with 3:41 left in the opening quarter, Mississippi State outscored Notre Dame 24-5 the remainder of the half. The Irish went just over 8 minutes without a point, missing seven shots and committing five turnovers during the game-changing run.

At the same time, the 6-foot-7 McCowan and Victoria Vivians were powering the Bulldogs. McCowan got the burst going with five straight points and Vivians capped it with the final six points to give the Bulldogs a 30-17 lead at the half.

Vivians finished with 21 points and McCowan 18 to go along with 17 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs.

The Irish had just three points in the second quarter, setting an NCAA Tournament record for the fewest points in a period. That was five less than the previous mark for futility set by Syracuse in 2016 against UConn.

It didn't matter in the end as Notre Dame found a way to rally, just as they had done all season.

"This team is relentlessly driven," said Jessica Shepard, who scored 19 points to lead the Irish. "We've been down multiple times this year, but nobody stops us."