Arike Ogunbowale wanted the ball.
UConn had re-tied the game inexplicably, and now it was eight seconds extra time, eight seconds between Notre Dame and a place in the national title game. A shot, a shot, and it would bring down the excitement that no one believed it could, and unbeaten UConn. And so Arike Ogunbowale wanted the ball.
The problem, however, was that teammate Marina Mabrey had the ball around the Final Four logo near the half court. The piece had collapsed. The team had changed who should take the ball out several times, and finally settled on Jackie Young. The ball had hit Jessica Shepard, who looked like she could have a chance for a quick layup. But the defense collapsed and she threw Mabrey out. They had no game to run.
When Mabrey attempted to dribble to her left, ticking the clock after 1
Then she cleared her teammates, sent her to the left side of the field and stared at Gabby Williams, one of the best defensive players in women's college basketball. A screen came and forced Williams to turn off, and now Ogunbowale was guarded by Napheesa Collier, a larger and longer defender. Not that it mattered.
Ogunbowale hesitated and took a stuttering step to the right of the screen. Five seconds stopped on the clock. She took some dribbling towards the baseline and set Collier on her heels. Four seconds. Then she took a crossover dribble to the left, stepped back, straightened up, one foot on the three-dot line, the other straight ahead. Three seconds. She jumped and threw her shot directly over Collier's outstretched arms. For a second the watch stopped, and now Ogunbowale screamed jubilantly. The shot felt good because it was good.
A desperate full-court hoisted the inbound pass for UConn ended, miraculously, with a good look for Katie Lou Samuelson, but the following runner ended at the edge of the ridge and soon the Fighting Irish players all stood in a semicircle next to the yard and danced an Irish jig, who cried and hugged himself. There was no time left on the clock. The impossible had happened.
"If you had told me last year that I was here, I would have shaken my head and thought you were crazy," said Shepard. "In the end you can always count on Arike."
It was the perfect ending for Notre Dames not a very perfect season. Unlike the Huskies, he did not come undefeated into play after losing three games all season – including December at UConn and the ACC tournament four weeks ago. But the Irish were clearly not afraid of the opening tip from the huskies. They did not care about their vaunted history or their immaculate record or the neat and orderly salvation history they expected in the championship game – a rematch with Mississippi State, the team that ended the 111st winning streak in the Final Four last year. The Irish came out, Young came out hot, and the first quarter ended with Notre Dame, who led 24-14
"They just left me open," Young said incredulously after the game. "I hit my first shot, and then we came down and they always left me open, I could go on."
That's an understatement when Young temporarily took the game and scored 32 points alongside 11 rebounds ended, but the huskies came back because of course they did. In the second quarter, they beat the Irish 27-10. The game was a back and forth afterwards, with the teams leading in the second half. But Notre Dame would not fold and agree to her will. This is a team that has lost four players to ACL tears this season and yet has reached number one to make it to the final four.] Seven minutes before the end, UConn extended its lead to eight, after Crystal Dangerfield had a good chance of mastering the game, but the Huskies had taken control and the Irish had fought a good fight, claiming his rightful place and governing the rest of the NCAA as it has for decades.  But Ogunbowale, which was owned, held for three seconds. This dynamic has been stopped. Then it was Young who scored nine points in four minutes. Notre Dame regained control of the game. And with 21 seconds advantage Notre Dame had a lead of five points. The game was over.
Or it seemed to be over. The crowd was on their feet and Irish players began to encourage them to cheer in the final seconds. But then the unthinkable happened. Collier struck a three. Kia's sister stole an inbound pass and ended up laying on the other end. The game was now tied, a five-point swing in five seconds. Ten seconds remained. After sales of Notre Dame, UConn had a chance to finish the game in regulation, but Williams missed a hard shot and sent the game to overtime. The logic would tell you that after such an emotional stroke, the Irish would collapse in overtime. But that did not happen, of course.
"The resilience," said Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw, "really shines through."
In extra time, it was again the Young and Ogunbowale show The duo took nine of the Irishman's last 11 points, and Notre Dame returned to five positions, 44 seconds behind, and it happened again The Ogunbowale was fouled. She had hit all six free throws to this point. But she rings the first one. Then she rings the second one. Of course, UConn would meet miracle three again to tie the game, which happened when Dangerfield did just that with 29 seconds.
Ogunbowale, however, was not shaken. She was not worried. She did not think about the missed free throws after the ball. And so she took the ball, and the fate of the team, in their hands. And she nailed it. Earlier in the week she had said she could not remember the team's first match with UConn in December. Thirty minutes after Ogunbowale finished the perfect season, she sat on the post-game podium and was asked if she would remember another game of this game.
"I think a bit," she said. "Just a little bit."
It could only have been this game and this ending might have overshadowed the first game of the evening as Mississippi State and Louisville had their own intoxicating finish, their own Summer Beater, their own over time. It was the first time in the history of Final Four that both games did not end in regulation.
There were 11.3 seconds left when Roshunda Johnson's name was added to the list of Heroes of March. It was 11.3 seconds and Blair Schaefer had the ball on the sideline next to the Mississippi State Bank. The Bulldogs were back by three points with a return to the national championship and a chance of redemption on the track. Three players lined up on the free throw line, with Teaira McCowan at one corner and Johnson at the other. When the referee brought the ball to Schaefer to start the game, Morgan cut William from the baseline to the top of the key and received the inbound pass. As Schaefer ran through the alley, McCowan realized that the defense had shifted to Schaefer. So she turned left and searched for Johnson.
The duty guard ran across the screen and awkwardly turned to her left to receive William's passport. She had missed the only three-point attempt she had taken in the game, came in the third quarter and had also missed the last shot she had taken, a layup on the edge just minutes earlier. But that did not matter. Not left with 11.3 seconds. Not for Roshunda Johnson.
She put her feet, her toes barely an inch behind the three-point life. The Louisville guard, Arica Carter, chased, but was slowed down by McCowan's screen by a millisecond. She threw her left hand up as Johnson fired, a futile effort. Johnson held her and rowed back as the ball trailed its parabolic path to the edge. Swish. Bedlam.
"Sagittarius never give up on a shot," Johnson said. "I did not want to stop shooting just because I did not do any."
The shot did not win the game for Mississippi State. Technically, the shot tied the game at 59 and sent the two of them away. The Bulldogs made sure the shot was not in the vein and retired in extra time to win 73-63.
But while Johnson's shot is most memorable, it was McCowan and guard Victoria Vivianen who carried Mississippi State to this moment, McCowan never again dominated the Cardinals from the opening top to the last buzzer, incessant in their attack Out of the game, on the post-game podium, when head coach Vic Schaefer praised his for McCowan's 6 "7" junior center for their performance and for every 40 minutes, she interrupted him. "It actually was 45 minutes, she reminded
"She pulls everyone up and down on the floor," Schaefer said, "She wants to get them all, I tell you, he wants every setback."
And she would have gotten almost all of them. McCowan broke the will of the Louisville player charged with boxing them as she laid 25 rebounds in the game (a Final Four record) with 13 offensive boards and surprised 32.5% of her teammates missing the game, according to Her Hoop Stats. McCowan's ninth rebound of the night – which she had in the second quarter – set a new record for most in a single NCAA tournament with 76. She finished the game with 92 boards so far in the tournament, shattering the previous record and her still has a game to add more.
Louisville tried out several defenders on McCowan and shuffled them in and out so that McCowan did not even know who was guarding them most of the time. Not that it mattered.
"I think I used it pretty well," she said.
However, the game did not start promising for the Bulldogs. In the first quarter they were lethargic and sloppy and did not shoot their first points of the game until 5:29 marker when McCowan knocked down two free throws. Louisville came out of the gates with much more energy and won early every 50:50, because it seemed to take some time for the Mississippi state to get used to its game.
The Bulldogs struggled to get the ball into the post, and McCowan was their most obvious advantage in the game as they had several centimeters on each Louisville defender. But the defense of Mississippi State kept it early in the game. Johnson chased the all-American guard Asia Durr around the court, making it difficult for her to get the ball in her hands by rappelling off any screen she turned around and sending a double as she came into the alley. Durr, the Cardinals' 5/10 guard, finished the game 18 points out of 18, but she had to fight for every single shot to drop a defender's ball, and then step backs and intersections to get an inch of separation, every jumper denied.
McCowan fought offensively as she was fed the ball in the post, scoring all but two of her 21 points from free throws and backs. However, it was Vivianers who gave the bulldogs much of the offensive spark throughout the entire contest, hitting clutch threes, and kept coming down the alley for simple baskets. After the Seniormanager had sat down for much of the first quarter because of bad inconvenience, he finished in an 11:21 shooting 25 points. It seemed as if the Bulldogs needed a bucket, it was Vivians answering the call.
After Johnson's shot had sent the game to overtime, both Vivians and McCowan dominated the extra period. The guard started with a three, followed by a long jumper, and McCowan finished the game with three straight blocks in the descending seconds and a nasty fool on the field.
Of course, the thrilling victory of Mississippi State's game-winning Summer Beater in the Final Four last year reminded her when she plunged powerful UConn to end the Huskies 111-game winning streak. But after this exciting ending, the Bulldogs was running low, losing to South Carolina in the championship game. Now they see an opportunity to finish what they came so close to last season.
"This is our second time, and we still make history for our school," says Vivians. "I just feel like this year, we have to do everything and finish and this time be at the top."