Notre Dame played a perfect match to annoy the previously undefeated Connecticut Huskies in the Final Four. But Arike Ogunbowale, a low two-point game hit, made it enough. The Fighting Irish played well defending on tracks, scoring well from the field and just had a bit of luck to seal the deal for a National Championship game trip. It will go down as a masterpiece for Irish head coach Muffet McGraw.
If McGraw saw the boxing score before the game tapped and saw UConn score 89 points, Gabby Williams would double-double, Napheesa Collier would be 24, Katie Lou Samuelson would knock out four threes, and Azura Stevens would for 1
But Notre Dame had flashes of light that contained Connecticut's supernatural powers for periods of time that just made a difference to bridge the talent gap. This should not be the game of the Irish. They lost four role-players to ACL injuries during the season, and Connecticut was unable to lose in consecutive seasons in the Final Four.
Nevertheless, it happened in a 91-89 overtime victory against the unbeatable. How It Works:
Katie Lou Samuelson WAS WORKING to Get (Mostly) Open Shooting
Samuelson is the top scorer of the Huskies, causing most of her damage from the three-point line. She has shot inhumane 48 percent from the depths throughout the season and always seems to rescue her teammates when a game is dead. Not this time (mostly) .
The Irish kept a defender at Samuelson's hip at all times, forcing them to look away from the bow or drag them out of their comfort zone. It was unbearable for Huskies fans to wait for their star to take over, but just enough blank possessions for Notre Dame to win.
Samuelson was still playing well, scoring 16 points (one below her average) and still knocking four four. But slowing one of the best players in the college tires of the world's best team in the Final Four to any degree is a big deal. And this game went back to a possession.
Connecticut left the wrong player open: Jackie Young
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma played up who lost and lost to his strongest defender. Of course, his decisions were logical, because Young was Notre Dame fourth best scorer this season. Who knew she would explode for 32 points?
UConn had its strongest defenders, Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse, switching between guarding Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey and having his best big, Napheesa Collier, Jessica Shepard. Connecticut wanted to reinforce Notre Dame's "others".
Problem for them is that they did.
All underestimated Youngs ability to shoot from the depths, reach the line and drive the lane. She had 32 points on 10 shots (two from deep) and 10 free throws.
Young never cooled off.
Notre Dame played to whom to defend too. But the Irish assumed correctly
The Irish dropped a little bit from man to man into the area, but if they defended one-on-one, they made Williams pay special attention, while Samuelson from outside and Collier paid special attention to the color , If the Irish would lose, McGraw made it clear she wanted Crystal Dangerfield and Kia Nurse as reasons.
(Little luck came here.)
Dangerfield and Nurse are both terrific – you have to be to play in the rotation of UConn – but when the one-dimensional players of the six Auriemma are rolled out, Notre Dame left them in the room instead of leaving Williams, Collier or Samuelson, and let them take over. Instead, the 45- and 44-percent three-point shooters went from 2 to 15.
And their shots were open, and those who would normally do them!
Arike Ogunbowale was a fearless star
Notre Dame rides through the highs and lows of his intrepid leading scorer, Ogunbowale, who has the confidence to shoot out of their collapses at any moment. Sometimes it can be admirable while others are frustrating, but they needed their unwavering confidence to cut off the huskies. And that's exactly what she brought.
Ogunbowale did not have a great first half and shot only 9-of-21 from the field, but she showed up in the clutch. She scored 15 of Ireland's last 32 points in the fourth quarter through drives, mid-range jumpers, foul shots and threes. It was an offensive threat in every way.
Though no shot is remembered more than her play win over Collier's outstretched arms.
There she cemented herself as a Notre Dame legend.