Notre Dame stuns UConn 91-89 in NCAA Final Four national semifinal
Columbus, Ohio — It was supposed to be Christmas morning, UConn's chance for redemption following an overtime loss to Mississippi State in last year's national semifinals in Dallas. Instead, after 365 days of polishing things, thinking, wishing, hoping, it turned into … Groundhog Day.
The UConn women's basketball team trailed by 13 points in the first quarter Friday night against Notre Dame in the national semis and went on to lose 91-89 before 19,564 fans at Nationwide Arena, once again in overtime and once again on a Shot Heard 'Round the World, this time a game-winner by Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale with 1 second remaining.
A year later, same result, with UConn's only loss of the season coming at the most inopportune time.
“Some things just don't need explanations, you know,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “You really can't describe what goes into … what goes into getting here and trying to win a championship.
“For us to make the plays that we made to tie the game in regulation, then have a chance to win it and to tie the game in overtime, I mean, that's kind of what Connecticut basketball's all about. But they made one more big play than we did tonight.”
“Probably more painful (than last year),” UConn junior Katie Lou Samuelson said. “It's the same kind of situation. Went into overtime. They got a last-second shot. It happens.”
UConn (36-1) pulled off two improbable comebacks against Notre Dame, one down five points with 20.1 seconds remaining in regulation. Napheesa Collier hit a 3-point field goal and Kia Nurse stole a Notre Dame pass and ran the length of the court for a layup to tie things 79-79.
The Huskies trailed by five once again in overtime 89-84, but got a basket from Collier and a 3-pointer from Crystal Dangerfield with 26.5 seconds left to make it 89-89.
Ogunbowale, who finished with 27 points, wasn't waiting around for another overtime, however, sending the Fighting Irish (34-3) to the national championship game to meet Mississippi State, who won its semifinal earlier, 73-63 over Louisville, also in overtime.
It is only the fourth Women's Final Four in history comprised of all four top seeds.
“I tried to shoot at the last minute because we didn't want to give them a chance to get a bucket in,” Ogunbowale said. “I guess I practiced that shot enough and my teammates trusted me with the ball.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw looked down the dais in rapt interest when Ogunbowale was asked to describe the final sequence, apparently not what McGraw drew up.
“The plan was to get Arike to go one-on-one and drive to the basket,” McGraw said. “We didn't think they'd foul. … She had a little trouble getting the ball. Took a while. We wanted to use a little clock.”
Jackie Young, a sophomore guard, finished with a career-high 32 points and 11 rebounds for Notre Dame, which is making an emotional run following the loss of four players this season to knee injuries. Young scored just two points in Notre Dame's 80-71 loss to UConn earlier in the season.
Collier had 24 points for UConn and Azura Stevens 19 points and eight rebounds. Samuelson added 16 points, Gabby Williams 12 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three blocked shots in her final career game and Nurse, also a senior, finished with 10 points.
UConn's seniors finished their careers 148-3 with two national championships.
UConn trailed Notre Dame 24-14 after the first quarter. It would have been more, too, were it not for a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Samuelson.
But just as decisively as Notre Dame dominated the first quarter, UConn came to play in the second quarter, going on a 10-0 run to tie things before the Fighting Irish ever scored a point. Stevens had a pair of offensive rebounds, Samuelson hit a 3-pointer and Stevens completed the string with one of two free throws to make it 24-24.
Stevens, who had 10 points in the quarter, gave UConn the lead for the first time since 2-0 on a pass from Williams, part of another 12-0 run by the Huskies capped by Collier on the front end of a fast break that made it 31-30 in favor of the Huskies.
UConn led 41-34 at halftime and 60-57 after three quarters, although the teams changed leads four times in the closing minutes of the third.
Collier connected for a three-point play that gave 11-time national champion UConn the 72-67 lead, but high-flying Notre Dame came right back with six straight points, taking a 73-72 lead on a fallaway shot by the All-American Ogunbowale.
Williams hit a jump shot to give UConn a 74-73 lead with 1:51 to play, but Young converted a pair of free throws with 1:32 left to put the Irish up 75-74 and Ogunbowale scored four straight for the 79-74 lead.
With that Notre Dame lead thwarted by Nurse, Nurse then gave UConn the lead with a 3-pointer in overtime. Once again Ogunbowale struck with a drive to the hoop to tie things and the Irish went on a 6-0 mini-run to seemingly take control. One more UConn comeback set the stage for Ogunbowale's game-winner.
UConn defeated Notre Dame during the regular season, Dec. 3, before a sold-out crowd at the XL Center. UConn also trailed in that game against then No. 3 Notre Dame, falling behind 65-54 after three quarters before outscoring the Irish 26-9 in the fourth.
Friday's game marked the 48th meeting between UConn and Notre Dame, with UConn leading the series 36-12. The teams, former Big East Conference rivals, have played seven times in the NCAA tournament, with the Huskies twice beating the Fighting Irish in the national championship game.
It was UConn's 11th straight Final Four appearance, an NCAA record.
“We knew we were playing a great team, obviously, and we knew they had a lot of players that could decide the game,” Auriemma said. “They thought they had us put away a couple of times and we kept coming back and coming back and we just ran out of time.”
“We clawed and clawed and clawed our way back,” Nurse said. “So I'm proud of my team. … Obviously, it hurts.”