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 title game.
The Irish will face Baylor for the crown 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 the Lady Bears won 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 with 7 minutes, 52 seconds left before scoring 13 of the next 16 points to take a 68-66 lead on Ogunbowale’s short jumper with 3:56 left. The teams 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.
After Crystal Dangerfield missed a drive down the lane, Ogunbowale hit two free throws to give the Irish a three-point advantage with 58.3 seconds left. On UConn’s next possession, Brianna Turner blocked Napheesa Collier’s layup attempt and Ogunbowale hit two more free throws to make it a five-point game.
Katie Lou Samuelson scored 20 points — all in the second half — for coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies (35-3).
The star matchup between Ogunbowale and Samuelson never got going in the first half. Ogunbowale scored two points before the break and Samuelson was shut out.
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