TAMPA, Fla. — Arike Ogunbowale scored 23 points and led Notre Dame’s rally from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter as the defending champion Irish beat UConn 81-76 Friday night to return to the NCAA women’s basketball championship game.
The Irish will face Baylor on Sunday night, trying to become the fourth school to win consecutive championships – UConn, Tennessee and Southern California have done it. Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw danced a little jig at midcourt after this comeback victory.
Baylor beat Oregon 72-67 in the first semifinal, setting up a rematch of the 2012 national championship game won by Baylor, 80-61.
This game between the Huskies and the Irish was a rematch of last season’s Final Four classic that Notre Dame won on a last-second shot by Ogunbowale. This one – the latest chapter in the greatest rivalry in women’s basketball over the past decade – provided a fitting encore.
Notre Dame (35-3) trailed 64-55 early in the fourth quarter before scoring 13 of the next 16 to take a 68-66 lead on Ogunbowale’s short jumper with 3:56 left. The teams then traded the lead five times over the next few minutes, with Jessica Shepard hitting a jumper from the foul line with 1:27 left to put the Irish ahead, 75-74.
Katie Lou Samuelson scored 20 points for the Huskies (35-3). Incarnate Word graduate Napheesa Collier, playing in her final college game, finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks for UConn. An All-American power forward, Collier is expected to be a high selection in next week’s WNBA Draft.