Notre Dame's Relentless Swagger Sparks Biggest NCAA Championship Comeback Ever

Natalie Weiner@natalieweinerStaff WriterApril 2, 2018

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 01:  Arike Ogunbowale #24 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hoists the NCAA championship trophy after scoring the game winning basket to defeat the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs in the championship game of the 2018 NCAA Women's Final Four at Nationwide Arena on April 1, 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs 61-58.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Easter Sunday and April Fools' were on the same day.

In the space of three seconds, one team, Notre Dame, was resurrected and another, Mississippi State, fell victim to what may as well have been a prank: a pull-up three in coverage with one second left on the game clock.

Specifically, a pull-up three in coverage that sank decisively through the bottom of the net. A pull-up three that was one of only two the Fighting Irish made the entire game, both of which came in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame women's basketball won its second-ever national championship 61-58 after four quarters of relentless defense from both teams and four NCAA finals losses in the past decade. The four defeats made it feel predestined, but the numbers made it look like a miracle.

The team, besieged all season by injuries that included four ACL tears, came into the final with six active players. The Irish weren't supposed to beat the UConn Huskies in the semifinals. They weren't supposed to execute the biggest comeback—15 points—in NCAA championship history in front of a sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena. But they did, out of sheer determination and a complete refusal to ever give up.

"A lot of us were shook a little bit," senior Kathryn Westbeld said in a press conference after the game, alluding to the fact the team went into the locker room at halftime with just 17 points. But a halftime pep talk, according to the team, did the trick.

"We just came out of halftime like: 'We're good. It's whatever'—we've been down like, 50," Marina Mabrey told a locker room full of reporters. "Mississippi State knew we were coming back. We saw the fear in their eyes in the third quarter, and the third quarter is always ours and will always be ours."

With 16 seconds left in the third frame, the game was tied at 41. After that, neither team led by more than five points. It was a glorious mess of fouls and turnovers and incredibly clutch shots, but none, of course, was more clutch than the shot that won the title.

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 30: Arike Ogunbowale #24 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hits the game winning shot with 1 second left in overtime under pressure from Napheesa Collier #24 of the Connecticut Huskies in the semifinals of the 2018 NCAA Women's Final F
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale had already etched her name in Final Four history with a buzzer-beater to beat an undefeated UConn in overtime Friday. She wasn't content with that moment, though.

"We just have to focus on Sunday," she said the day after her team toppled NCAA women's basketball's Goliath 91-89—another near-biblical moment for the Catholic college team. Instead, she became the first person ever to make game-winning buzzer-beaters in both the semifinal and the final of the NCAA tournament with a bucket that's bound to be the highlight of reels for at least as long as YouTube exists.

If you ask how—how she hit two of the most improbable shots in women's basketball history—she's as astounded as everyone else who watched them go through the hoop. "I don't know how I did it. I really don't," Ogunbowale said. "It felt good coming off my hands, but still, you never know if it's gonna go down."

"She always practices that shot in warm-ups, and it irritates me because she like, misses it a lot," Mabrey added. "But when I saw her do the shot, I was like...can you even put it into words? I was just like: 'Oh my God—OH MY GOD IT'S GOOD! Wow, she's the absolute GOAT.'"

The Fighting Irish stunned Mississippi State the exact same way the Bulldogs stunned UConn in the Final Four one year prior—a buzzer-beater shot that should never have gone in but did anyway.

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 01:  Arike Ogunbowale #24 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hits the game winning shot with 0.1 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter under pressure from Victoria Vivians #35 to defeat the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs 61-58 in the
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Ogunbowale's dagger, though, came with a little extra salt poured on Mississippi State's gaping loss: 0.1 seconds left on the clock after her basket went through the hoop.

The Bulldogs had already resigned themselves to a defeat, already shook hands with Notre Dame. Victoria Vivians and Teaira McCowan had already returned to the locker room.

They were summoned back out so the team could inbound the ball toward the basket, a last-ditch exercise in futility required to end the most painful game of their careers.

"They should have known we were going to be back," Mabrey concluded. "They should have known."     

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