Notre Dame beat Nurse, UConn to advance to national title game

Women's Final Four Could Notre Dame Beat UConn? It's Very Possible

It's there, and it will come out Friday night.

Arike Ogunbowale hit the jumper for the Fighting Irish from just inside the arc with a second left - nothing but net in the clutch - to seal a 91-89 win at the women's Final Four in Columbus, Ohio.

UConn is out. Notre Dame is in, and the Irish now have a chance to clinch the program's second national championship after their first win over the Huskies since 2013 - a span that includes two meetings for the national title and another in the Final Four.

UConn's undefeated women's basketball team is no longer undefeated.

UConn laid claim to three AP All-American team selections (first teamer Katie Lou Samuelson, second team selection Gabby Williams and third team pick Napheesa Collier) and two honorable mentions, one of whom, senior guard Kia Nurse, was recently named the WBCA National Defensive Player of the Year. The last four teams to defeat UConn in the national semifinals all lost in the championship game - notably the Fighting Irish in 2011 and 2012, and Mississippi State last season.

When McGraw and Ogunbowale entered the shrieking bedlam that comprised the winning locker room, yet another round of screams erupted. Junior forward Jessica Shepard recorded what has become a typical double-double in the tournament with 15 points and 11 rebounds. "This year, we have that mentality of 'We don't care how you feel, we don't care how exhausted you are, how sore.' We have come together as a team and made a point to finish it off".

"So the game has changed where more people have access to the Final Four, more people have access to the regional finals, the regionals", Auriemma said.

"I'm so proud of this team", Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.

Led by Young, Notre Dame asserted control early with a 15-6 first quarter lead that ballooned to 24-11 in the final minute of the first quarter.

Collier finished with 24 points for the Huskies. Meanwhile, the Irish were only 5-of-16 from the floor in the second quarter. As Notre Dame clawed back to beat CT on the way to the only national title in program history, Auriemma remembered feeling like he was slowly suffocating.

Like Notre Dame has done much of the tournament, it was the better team in the second half. Big plays. That's how we got to the one shot.

She came to Notre Dame to compete for championships, and to win them. The teams traded the lead in the third quarter before the Huskies went up 60-57 heading into the fourth quarter. At some point, it's going to come to an end. But Ogunbowale put the final nail in the coffin. No way the Huskies would come back twice in the final minute and lose, right? At 1:32 Young's free throws gave Notre Dame a 75-74 edge, followed by a Westbeld steal.

"It felt good", Ogunbowale said. "For a long, long time, we made it look like it was easy, but it's very, very hard, as it's played out the last two years".

In overtime, the Irish were all over the Huskies.

An immediate UConn foul sent Ogunbowale to the line at:20.1.

Former UConn players honored with WBCA positional awards include Sue Bird (2000, 2001, 2002), Diana Taurasi (2003, 2004), Renee Montgomery (2009) and Moriah Jefferson (2015, 2016).

UConn, which had to mount comebacks in both regulation and overtime, tied the game on a three-pointer from Crystal Dangerfield with 29 seconds to play.

"I didn't think we'd have more ACL tears than losses", McGraw said.

In the extra session, a Shepard lay-in and Ogunbowale free throws gave the Irish a four-point cushion. UConn challenged her to beat them, and she did not shrink from the opportunity, including converting two three-pointers after coming into the game only 9-of-35 (25.7 percent) beyond the arc.

That is what Notre Dame is facing after this euphoria. "Throughout the whole game, I needed to be someone they could have relied on a little more".

Notre Dame is now 4-3 against UConn in the Final Four - and 4-1 in the semifinal contests.

"I'm a pretty smart guy", said Auriemma after it ended. "But I'm smart enough that I didn't need to learn this crap two years in a row".



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