Notre Dame defeated Mississippi State in the final game of the NCAA Tournament to bring home the program’s second national championship. I keep waiting for this to somehow be an elaborate April Fool’s joke, but now that I’ve ordered my championship hat and t-shirt, it’s sinking in that it was real. I’ll have a more detailed writeup in the next couple of days, but for now let’s just go over some highlights and fun facts.
The Game Itself
The Irish got out to a quick start early in the first quarter, taking a 10-4 lead, before Mississippi State started to take over. Their pressure really got to the Irish, who were also struggling against Bulldogs center Teaira McCowan. MSU led by only three after the first quarter, before a disastrous second quarter for the Irish. ND couldn’t get anything going on offense in the second quarter, scoring only three points and trailing 30-17 at halftime. It didn’t look at that point like it was likely to be competitive in the second half, but loyal Irish fans know that this team has performed well in the second half this year. In fact, they’ve needed to in the tournament. They had a big lead at halftime in the first round, but were tied with Villanova at the half in the second round, trailed Texas A&M by 2 in the Sweet 16, trailed Oregon by 6 at halftime in the Elite 8, and trailed UConn by 7 in the Final Four. This team isn’t intimidated in those situations.
The Irish offense improved, led by some heroics from Arike Ogunbowale, in the second half. MSU led by as many as 15 in the third quarter before ND went on a 16-1 run to tie things up at the end of the third. The fourth quarter featured incredibly dramatic back and forth play, as neither team was able to pull away. MSU did establish a five-point lead late, but the first Irish three-pointer of the game (from Marina Mabrey) and a layup from Jackie Young tied the game at 58 with less than 50 seconds remaining. After the teams traded turnovers, McCowan fouled Young to give the Irish the ball with a tie game and 3 seconds remaining. Young inbounded the ball to Ogunbowale, and once again, for the second game in a row, the junior made the heroic game-winning shot, nailing a wild three-pointer at the buzzer for the 61-58 Irish victory.
It wasn’t their prettiest game of the year, but it doesn’t matter. That 3-point second quarter would have haunted this team if they had lost, but nobody is thinking about it now. All anyone (and everyone, based on my Twitter research) is thinking about is that amazing last shot.
imagine hitting a game winner to send your team to the championship and it's not even the best shot you made that weekend lol arike became an honest to goodness legend these last three days
— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) April 2, 2018
Things to Ponder
This game had so many great story lines, it’s hard to choose where to start:
- It’s been said a million times this year, but this is a team that lost FOUR players to torn ACLs, and struggled through a variety of other injuries. They lost the ACC Tournament for the first time since joining the conference. People questioned whether they deserved a 1-seed. People thought they wouldn’t make it back to the Final Four. And this is the team that won the title. Pretty amazing. It’s a really incredible demonstration of grit, adaptability, mental toughness, and just pure talent.
- This was Muffet McGraw’s 800th win at Notre Dame. A national championship is a pretty good way to celebrate the milestone.
- This game occurred exactly 17 years to the day after the program’s first national title. I guess April Fool’s Day is lucky for the Irish.
- The 15-point deficit in the third quarter is the largest deficit a women’s basketball team has ever overcome to win the national championship.
And now, I’m going to go watch the video of the final shot 100 more times. I suggest you do the same: