Notre Dame’s final play wasn’t called for Arike Ogunbowale. After hitting the winning three in Friday’s semifinal win over UConn, the Notre Dame junior guard had an off shooting night against Mississippi State, and when the Irish inbounded the ball in a tie game with three seconds left, the play was designed to go to leading scorer Jessica Shepard. (“Arike hadn’t been shooting the ball particularly well,” head coach Muffet McGraw said. “Jess was.”) But Shepard wasn’t open. So Ogunbowale got open. And was the hero again.
Jackie Young, inbounding the ball, had a contingency plan.
“I didn’t like the way it looked,” Young explained. “I knew, if I threw it, it would have possibly been a turnover. So I talked to Arike before and I was like, if the matchup doesn’t look right or if Jess isn’t in the position that we’re looking for, then come to the ball. And I just made sure Arike was literally coming to the ball before I passed it to her.”
You can see Shepard, No. 23, double-teamed just inside the arc at the top of the screen. The original plan was for her to post up for a shot from the near block, but Young didn’t think she could force the ball to Shepard. So Ogunbowale fought past her defender to come toward Young, and the rest is off-balance history:
What’s really cool is that in this angle, from the broadcast table, you can see and hear Ogunbowale calling for the ball:
Ogunbowale was having a truly terrible game, having missed 15 of 20 shots before this point. So a contested corner three—from pretty much the same spot where she won Friday’s game—was not her ideal shot. “If I could have picked a shot, I would have chose a layup,” she said. “It’s not what I really wanted, it’s just what happened.”
At least she was somewhat prepared to shoot from there, and not just because of her make against UConn. Teammate Marina Mabrey noted that Ogunbowale loves the corner three in practices, even if it doesn’t go down all that often.
“She always practices that shot in warm-ups, and it irritates me because she misses it a lot,” Mabrey said. “We’ll be trying to move to our next drill in warm-ups, and she’ll shoot that. Honestly, it doesn’t go in all that often.”
Maybe what Ogunbowale was missing in warm-ups was a hand in her face, forcing her to release a split second earlier than was comfortable, and put a high arc on the ball, causing it to hang there for what felt like forever before falling home.
Here’s how the shot looked to ESPN’s broadcast team:
And here’s how it looked to Muffet McGraw:
This was maybe the single best coaching job in McGraw’s storied career. The Irish played the entire season without All-American center Brianna Turner, and lost starting PG Lili Thompson in December. They were also without rotation players Mikayla Vaughn and Mychal Johnson. All four were lost to torn ACLs, indicating a curse of some sort, but McGraw coached the team to a 1-seed and a national title, for the third game in a row with just six players.
“We were able to win with six players against anybody’s 12-13-14-15,” a jubilant Mabrey said after the game. “We’re just the best in the country.”