TAMPA – For the seventh time in program history, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team will compete for the NCAA Championship title. The No. 1 Irish rallied down nine points in the fourth to vanquish rival No. 2 Connecticut, 81-76, on Friday night inside a jam-packed Amalie Arena.
Arike Ogunbowale scored 14 points in the final quarter to finish with a game high of 23. Brianna Turner (15 points/15 boards), Jessica Shepard (20 points/13 boards) and Marina Mabrey (12 points/12 assists) all recorded double-doubles for the Irish. Mabrey’s 12 assists were a career high and marked an NCAA record for a National Semifinal game. Lastly, Jackie Young made it five-for-five for starters in double figures with 11 points.
“That was an amazing second half,” Karen and Kevin Keyes Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “First half I thought we really struggled to score. The second half, we really just caught fire. I think we played our normal game in the third quarter. Brianna Turner was absolutely outstanding on defense. She now has the blocked shot record at Notre Dame, beating Ruth Riley. So proud of her. She really single-handedly kept us in the game in the first half. She had so many key blocked shots. Arike in the second half did what Arike does. She had some huge screens, made some great plays, and then the free throws down the stretch. Also, Jessica Shepard, what an amazing game with 20 and 13.”
All-in-all, the Irish thriller featured 26 lead changes and nine ties. Notre Dame moved to 5-3 all-time against UConn in NCAA Tournament play, with a 5-1 mark in the National Semifinal round.
How It Happened
UConn jumped on Notre Dame in the early minutes, recording an 11-0 run to garner a 13-4 lead, in which the Irish missed nine consecutive shots from the field. However, Notre Dame began to find its touch, ending the quarter on an 8-3 scoring spree to cut the deficit to 16-12. Turner led the Irish with six points.
It was all Shepard in the second, who tallied an individual 6-0 run, keyed by back-to-back blocks from Turner. As a result, the Irish regained the lead at 18-16 at the 8:16 mark. Out of the UConn timeout, Shepard garnered a steal and got the breakaway layup, pushing the lead to four. Yet midway through the quarter, the Huskies notched a 6-0 run to take a 24-22 lead. Shepard went on to score 10 points in the quarter (had 12 points at the half), but it was UConn who scored at the buzzer, taking a 30-29 lead at the half.
Next, Notre Dame recorded a 6-0 run in the opening minutes of the third, including a stretch of making five of six from the field to garner a 47-43 advantage. However, UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson got hot from beyond the arc, tallying three three-point plays in the final minutes to push the Huskies ahead, 54-52.
UConn then hit its seventh three of the game to start the fourth and went on to tie its largest lead of the game, up 64-55 at 7:52. At that moment, the Fighting Irish spirit kicked in as Notre Dame fired off a 13-2 scoring run which was powered by treys from Young, Ogunbowale and Mabrey.
Later, up just 74-73 thanks to a clutch Shepard jumper, Ogunbowale cushioned the lead with four straight free throws. Turner then iced the game with her 371st career block with 11 seconds left, which also broke Ruth Riley’s all-time record.
- The Irish earned program win No. 999.
- The five Irish starters have now amassed 10,151 combined career points, which stands as the most in both Division I men’s and women’s basketball all-time.
- Notre Dame now boasts 67 NCAA Tournament wins, which ranks as the fourth most all-time.
- The Irish have advanced to their seventh NCAA title game.
- The Irish move to 5-3 all-time against the Huskies in the NCAA Tournament. The five wins stands as the most against UConn and more than doubles the next highest team.
- Irish are also 5-1 against UConn in National Semifinal games.
- Overall, over the last 11 years, Notre Dame has defeated UConn nine times, while all other Division I teams have combined for eight wins.
- Turner becomes the second Irish player in program history to reach the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound milestone. Turner now boasts 2,005 career points and 1,036 career rebounds.
- Turner tied her season high of five blocks and as a result, broke Ruth Riley’s all-time block record of 370. She now boasts 371 in her career.
- With 23 points, Ogunbowale earned her 26th game with 20-plus points, which breaks her record for most in a season at Notre Dame.
- Shepard earned her 18th double-double on the year and 10 over the last 13 games. The 18 rank second only behind Natalie Achonwa’s 19.
- Shepard recorded her 22 straight game with double-digit points, setting a new career high.
- Mabrey dished out a career high 12 assists. It set a new NCAA National Semifinal game record.
The quest to defend the title reaches its climax on Sunday, April 7, at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Irish will square off against the No. 1 overall seed in Baylor.