By DOUG FEINBERG
AP Basketball Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – It took a historic comeback and an epic shot to give Notre Dame its second national championship.
The last-second 3-pointer by Arike Ogunbowale that lifted the Irish over Mississippi State 61-58 Sunday night was a riveting – and fitting – conclusion to the greatest women’s Final Four, and maybe any basketball championship.
Coach Muffet McGraw’s team has been the comeback queens of the NCAA Tournament, with Ogunbowale conjuring a bit of magic, not once, but twice.
The junior guard provided an astonishing encore to her game-winning shot that beat UConn in the Final Four two days earlier. That capped another double-digit rally. The Irish had to come back from halftime deficits in their last four NCAA games.
“The fighting spirit of Notre Dame is just amazing,” McGraw said. “Relentless, competitive. They have a swagger, they believe in themselves with the confidence that starts with Arike and Marina (Mabrey) and just filters down through the team.”
The Irish found themselves down 30-17 at the half and 15 in the third quarter before finally getting on tracky. Ogunbowale epitomized the Irish struggles on offense. She was 1-for-10 from the field in the first half and missed her first two shots in the third quarter. The frustration was boiling over as she punched the padded support behind the basket.
But then it all started to turn. The resiliency the Irish had shown all season while dealing with four season-ending knee injuries was there.
A 16-1 run to end the third quarter tied the game. A back-and-forth last 10 minutes ended when Ogubowale hit her off-balance floater from in front of Notre Dame’s bench to give the Irish to their first title since 2001. The 3-pointer from the wing came from nearly the same angle as her shot that beat the Huskies.
“To do that twice in one weekend, the biggest stage in college basketball, it’s crazy,” Ogunbowale said.
Notre Dame returned to campus Monday, busing back from Columbus and greeted by a few thousand fans. Ogunbowale’s shot was on constant play on the bus.
“Watching the shot again, again and again and seeing everyone’s reaction was special,” McGraw said. “We have so many former players there, 25 from all different years. We were celebrating for them. We got back to campus and they had a huge rally for us and that was fun.”
McGraw says she’s ready for some down time and happy to bask in the title. The Hall of Fame coach was noncommittal whether the team would visit the White House if invited.
“We’ll discuss it with the team and make a decision if the offer is extended,” McGraw told The Associated Press by phone Monday.
There’s no reason to think Notre Dame couldn’t repeat as champions next year. Most of the team is back and the Irish will get the return of Brianna Turner – one of four players sidelined this season with knee ligament injuries.
Even if they do win it all again next season, it will be nearly impossible to repeat the drama of this run.
“Phenomenal for women’s basketball. Three exciting games. I hope the ratings reflect it,” McGraw said after the game. “The crowd was tremendous tonight. Everybody came back. Just an incredible job by Columbus and the local community. Great support for women’s basketball and definitely one of the best Final Fours since 2001, right?”
Sunday’s national championship came 17 years to the day of the Irish’s only other one.
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