Women's Tournament 2018: Final Four Scores, Championship Preview

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2018

Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale, right, hits the game-winning shot as Connecticut's Napheesa Collier, left, watches during overtime in the semifinals of the women's NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament, Friday, March 30, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. Notre Dame won 91-89. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Ron Schwane/Associated Press

There's a reason it's called March Madness.

In a 2018 women's NCAA tournament that has been dominated by chalk, the four No. 1 seeds put on a show during the two Final Four contests Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs clinched their spot in the title game for the second straight year with an overtime victory against the Louisville Cardinals, while the Notre Dame Fighting Irish stunned the mighty Connecticut Huskies in overtime of the second game.

Arike Ogunbowale played the role of hero for Notre Dame, drilling the game-winning shot with one second remaining in overtime right after her missed free throws allowed the Huskies to tie the contest on a Crystal Dangerfield three-pointer.

The stage was set for a rematch in Sunday's championship game between the Bulldogs and Huskies after Mississippi State stopped Connecticut's run of four straight national titles in last year's tournament, but Geno Auriemma's side lost in the Final Four for the second straight year on a last-second shot.

That means either Notre Dame will win its first national title since 2001 or Mississippi State will capture its first crown in program history.

              

Final Four Scores

Mississippi State defeats Louisville, 73-63 (OT)

Notre Dame defeats Connecticut, 91-89 (OT)

            

Mississippi State 73, Louisville 63

Mississippi State is in a familiar position: one win away from a national championship.

After shocking the sports world last year and beating the Huskies in the Final Four, the Bulldogs lost to conference rival South Carolina in the title game. They will have a chance at their first national championship Sunday thanks to late-game heroics in their victory over Louisville.

Roshunda Johnson drilled a three-pointer with six seconds remaining to tie the game at 59 and force an overtime the Bulldogs controlled. Mississippi State outscored the Cardinals 14-4 in the extra period to clinch the 73-63 win.

Johnson hit only two shots from the field during the game, although there wasn't a bigger attempt than the one that forced overtime. Louisville still had the opportunity to win at the buzzer when Myisha Hines-Allen went coast to coast, but it missed two attempts at the rim.

Teaira McCowan and Victoria Vivians led the way for the victors as a dominant inside-outside combination.

McCowan finished with a head-turning stat line of 21 points, 25 rebounds and three blocks and consistently overwhelmed Louisville's frontcourt in the paint. Vivians added 25 points as the game's leading scorer, and she and McCowan were the only Bulldogs to score more than 10 points.

Asia Durr spearheaded Louisville's efforts with 18 points, but she was just 6-of-17 shooting from the field. Jazmine Jones tallied 15 points and nine rebounds, while Hines Allen added 11 points, four rebounds and four steals as the only other Cardinals to score in double figures.

             

Notre Dame 91, Connecticut 89

A roller coaster of emotions doesn't even begin to explain Friday's contest between Notre Dame and Connecticut.

It looked as if the Fighting Irish were going to run away with things when they jumped out to a 24-11 lead in the first quarter, but Connecticut charged back, holding them to 10 points in the second quarter. It looked as if Notre Dame had the game under control, boasting a five-point lead in the final 20 seconds of regulation. But the Huskies finished on a frantic 5-0 spurt.

Then it looked as if Notre Dame had it won again with another five-point lead in the last 40 seconds of overtime before the Huskies tied it again on a 5-0 run, setting the stage for Ogunbowale's heroics.

Ogunbowale's shot capped off a stretch that saw Napheesa Collier score and Dangerfield tie it with a three in a sequence reminiscent of regulation when Collier hit a three and Kia Nurse stole an inbounds pass and converted a layup to force the overtime.

Jackie Young notched a double-double with 32 points and 11 rebounds for the Fighting Irish, while Ogunbowale finished with 27 points.

Collier had 24 points for the Huskies, and go-to playmaker Katie Lou Samuelson had 16 but was limited down the stretch because foul trouble sapped her ability to play with aggression.

             

Championship Game Prediction

If Sunday's contest is anything like Friday's games, the fans in Columbus will be in for a treat.

While the Huskies won it all in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 and have 11 championships in their illustrious history—the most in the NCAA women's tournament—there will be a different team cutting down the nets this year.

If Mississippi State is going to do so for the first time in its history, it will need McCowan to be at her best down low. The Fighting Irish will need to find a way to consistently deal with her size in one-on-one situations, and if they don't, it could force them to send doubles her way.

That, in turn, could open up looks for Vivians on the outside.

Still, the Fighting Irish have plenty of weapons and a balanced attack that features four players who averaged more than 14 points per game this season, led by Ogunbowale. The prediction here is they will bust out too much offense for Mississippi State to handle.

Look for the Bulldogs to come up just short again as Notre Dame will reign as national champion.

Related

    Women's basketball rankings: South Dakota cracks the new top 25 for the first time in program history

    Women's College Basketball logo
    Women's College Basketball

    Women's basketball rankings: South Dakota cracks the new top 25 for the first time in program history

    Ncaa
    via Ncaa

    Women's college basketball: No. 11 South Carolina will face tough test from No. 4 UConn

    Women's College Basketball logo
    Women's College Basketball

    Women's college basketball: No. 11 South Carolina will face tough test from No. 4 UConn

    Ncaa
    via Ncaa

    30 named to 2019 Citizen Naismith Trophy Women’s Midseason Team

    Women's College Basketball logo
    Women's College Basketball

    30 named to 2019 Citizen Naismith Trophy Women’s Midseason Team

    Ncaa
    via Ncaa

    These are 5 women’s college basketball teams you absolutely don’t want to face right now

    Women's College Basketball logo
    Women's College Basketball

    These are 5 women’s college basketball teams you absolutely don’t want to face right now

    Ncaa
    via Ncaa