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Stanford women rally, edge Notre Dame 76-75 to reach Final Four

Stanford’s Karlie Samuelson, center, passes away from the defense of Notre Dame’s Kathryn Westbeld (33) during the second half of a regional final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament, Sunday, March. 26, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. (Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)
Stanford’s Karlie Samuelson, center, passes away from the defense of Notre Dame’s Kathryn Westbeld (33) during the second half of a regional final of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament, Sunday, March. 26, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. (Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)
By Gary B. Graves Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Even after Alanna Smith and Stanford pulled off a huge rally to put Stanford in position to reach the Final Four, there still was work to do.

That’s when Erica McCall stepped up and blocked Notre Dame’s path.

Smith’s layup with 23 seconds left capped Stanford’s comeback from a 16-point deficit in the second half, McCall swatted a last-second shot and the Cardinal edged top-seeded Notre Dame 76-75 Sunday for its first Final Four trip since 2014.

The Irish had the ball under their own basket with 2.2 seconds left and there was a series of timeouts before play resumed. Akire Ogunbowale caught the inbounds pass and drove to the basket, and McCall blocked the shot from behind.

“She took a dribble, and I’m like, I’m going for it whether I get the foul or not,” McCall said. “I got a nice clean block off of it. We get the win. Whew, so I’m excited.”

Brittany McPhee scored 27 as the second-seeded Cardinal (32-5) won its eighth in a row overall. This was the third straight year Stanford and Notre Dame have met in the NCAA Tournament, with the Cardinal winning the past two in the Lexington Regional.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer referencing the Bluegrass State’s horse racing history in describing the win at Rupp Arena.

“It took us a while to get going,” she said, “but then when we got going, we were charging down that stretch and came across that finish line.”

Down 47-31 in the third quarter, Stanford surged to end Notre Dame’s 17-game winning streak.

Ogunbowale finished with a team-high 25 points, and the Irish (33-4) put the ball in her hands at the end.

“It was a screen for Arike,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said of the final shot. “She was wide open and she probably could have shot it. That’s hindsight.”

The Cardinal is going to the Final Four for the 13th time, and will aim for its third national championship under VanDerveer. The Cardinal also dropped Notre Dame to 7-1 in the Elite Eight.

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