The Irish once again came away with the win over UConn in the Final Four, making them 5-1 against the Huskies in this round of the tournament. Now they will have a chance to defend their title on Sunday against Baylor.

Final Four: 1 ND vs. 2 UConn

Notre Dame and UConn met for the 50th time in program history on Friday night. It has become rare for the two teams to avoid meeting in tournament play, so it was a familiar feeling to see them squaring off again. The game got off to a bit of a rocky start for the Irish. Much like the opening half against Stanford in the Elite Eight, the offense really struggled to knock down shots. After Turner connected on a layup to start the game, the Irish missed 11 of their next 12 shots as the Huskies took a 13-4 lead. In their frustration during this stretch, the Irish settled for (and missed) a lot of three-point attempts or long twos early in the shot clock, rather than looking for other options. However, as the quarter went on they started getting the ball into the paint where they’ve had their success this tournament, and shots started falling better there. By the end of the first quarter, ND started a run and cut the UConn lead to 16-12.

Continuing their run into the 2nd quarter, the Irish capped it at 12-0 to take a 20-16 lead. All of those first 20 points came in the paint as the Irish shooting woes continued elsewhere. The game stayed close throughout the quarter, as the teams traded baskets. Brianna Turner picked up her second foul with just under six minutes to go in the quarter, and had to exit the game for the rest of the period. While Turner was clearly missed on defense, the team was able to keep the game close without her. UConn held a 30-29 lead at halftime.

The game stayed tight in the third quarter as both teams started shooting better. The Irish still made some questionable shot selections and the defense gave up some easy looks, but they didn’t allow the Huskies to pull away despite the mistakes. Marina Mabrey started looking more comfortable in the game than she has since returning from her knee injury. However, the team struggled to defend UConn senior Katie Lou Samuelson, who started heating up in the third quarter after a quiet first half. The Irish took a one-point lead on an Arike Ogunbowale three-pointer with 13 seconds remaining in the quarter, but Jackie Young fouled Samuelson in the act of shooting a three with one second remaining. Samuelson connected on all three free throws to give UConn the 54-52 lead at the end of the quarter.

UConn’s Christyn Williams opened the fourth quarter with a three to make the Huskies’ lead five points. Despite Ogunbowale responding with a three of her own, UConn started to pull away over the next few plays and forced a Notre Dame timeout down 62-55. The Huskies scored again coming out of the timeout to stretch their lead to nine. Seeing UConn with their largest lead of the game and apparently all of the momentum in the fourth quarter certainly made it feel like the game was about to slip through Notre Dame’s fingers, but apparently they weren’t going to let it. The Irish kicked off a run with a three-pointer from Jackie Young and a pair of free throws from Turner to make it a four-point game. Ogunbowale and Mabrey both connected on threes to tie the game at 66. The teams traded baskets and the lead for a few possessions, but Notre Dame took over the lead for good at 74-73 on a jumper from Jessica Shepard. The Irish pulled away to 79-73 with 23 seconds remaining. Finishing the game on a 26-12 run, they came away with the 81-76 win. The game included 26 lead changes and nine ties. After winning so many games by dominating the paint, the Irish were actually outscored in the paint by two this game, but stayed on top by outrebounding UConn 54-37 which allowed them to come away with a 22-9 edge in second-chance points.

My Five Favorite Things About this Game

In no particular order:

  1. With 49 seconds remaining in the game Brianna Turner had a fantastic, perfectly clean block of a shot attempt by Napheesa Collier. She blocked the shot, collected the rebound, and may have sealed the game for Notre Dame right then and there. Oh, and with that particular block (her 371st) she also took over the program record for career blocks from Ruth Riley.

  2. Marina Mabrey has really struggled to score in this tournament, but today she found her footing again. No, she isn’t out of her slump yet (4 of 14 in this game), but she still made a huge impact on the game. Mabrey picked up a double-double with 12 points and a career-high 12 assists. One way or another, she made an impact on the offense.

  3. This was really an impressively balanced effort from the Irish starters. In addition to Mabrey’s double-double, Shepard and Turner both added their own. Turner had 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Shepard had 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists. Ogunbowale led the scoring with 23 points and Young added 11 points. Every single one of them made key plays in crunch time and it was a lot of fun to watch.

  4. Obviously, the highlight of the night was this moment.
  5. No, but seriously.

Coming Up

Sunday 4/7, 6:00pm; ESPN – National Championship Game vs. 1 Baylor

Wednesday 4/10, 7:00pm; ESPN2 (1st round) and ESPNU (2nd and 3rd rounds): WNBA Draft

The Irish have made it all the way back to the championship game for a chance to defend their title, but they are going to have to face a very good Baylor team. Baylor, the top overall seed, is 36-1. Their lone loss this season came against Stanford back in mid-December. They have won their games this season by an average of 27.3 points while holding their opponents to a nation’s best 31.4% shooting and leading the nation in rebounding. The Irish lost to Baylor in the national championship game back in 2012 when Baylor finished 40-0. The good news for Notre Dame is that Baylor doesn’t have Brittney Griner this year. The bad news is that they have Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox. The Irish have relied on being able to dominate in the paint against smaller teams, but Brown and Cox are likely to take away that advantage. The Irish are going to have to start shooting better and connecting from beyond the arc if they are going to defend their title. However, in their Final Four game Oregon showed that Baylor can be vulnerable. Hopefully the Irish can take some tips from the Ducks’ approach but take that last extra step to come away with the trophy.