Ogunbowale will remember it for a long time. No. 1 seed Notre Dame beat No. 1 seed Connecticut on Friday night, 91-89, thanks to a long jumper from Ogunbowale with one second remaining, becoming the second team in as many years to knock the Huskies out of the Final Four with a buzzer-beater in overtime.
"That definitely wasn't the play call," Ogunbowale said. "... My team trusted me to have the ball at the end of the game. It felt good. I didn't know it was going in, but it felt good. ... I think I'll remember this one just a little bit more. Just a little bit."
Friday was the Huskies’ seventh consecutive loss in overtime, and it keeps them from competing for a record 12th national championship. This year was their 19th appearance in the Final Four. The game capped a wild night of basketball that began with an overtime win for No. 1 seed Mississippi State – the team that knocked Connecticut out of the Final Four last year – over No. 1 seed Louisville, 73-63 and ended as the first Final Four in NCAA tournament history in which both semifinals have gone to overtime.
The Bulldogs will meet the Fighting Irish (34-3) on Sunday at 6 p.m. in the national title game.
That Notre Dame has survived this long is remarkable. Coach Muffet McGraw’s team has played the bulk of this season with just seven healthy scholarship players after losing four to anterior cruciate ligament tears this season. The Irish lack a true point guard. Having such a shorthanded roster limits what McGraw can do in practice, and she can’t help but get nervous whenever a player picks up her first foul in games.
"I didn’t think we’d have more ACL tears than losses," McGraw said after the win. "I think it’s just an amazing accomplishment for this team and the resilience they’ve shown all year."
As they have all season, Notre Dame stayed sharp and cool under pressure despite their slim roster on Friday. After a physical, back-and-forth game, Notre Dame capitalized on two uncharacteristic Connecticut turnovers in the final 3:24 of regulation, the second of which had U-Conn. Coach Geno Auriemma turn his back on the game and place both hands on his head in disbelief.
The Irish took a 77-74 lead and added to it with a pair of free throws from Ogunbowale. A three-pointer from Napheesa Collier with 15 seconds left put Connecticut (36-1) back within reach, and Kia Nurse tied the game by stealing the Irish's inbound pass and driving for a layup. Gabby Williams had the chance to win it for the Huskies but missed a jumper with two seconds left.
In overtime, the score stayed knotted and the game appeared headed to a second extra period until Ogunbowale’s shot. For Connecticut’s unparalleled success in the sport, the Huskies haven’t won a game in overtime since 2004.
"You know, one or two players really make the difference at this time of the year," Auriemma said. "I made this comment before that, when your team gets to the Final Four, it's not your talent, and it's not your team that's going to beat the other team. Generally, when you look back, there's one or two players that just make unbelievable plays and just dominate the game. And going in, you never know who they're going to be."
Ogunbowale had 19 points in that December meeting with Connecticut, but the Huskies were less prepared for Jackie Young on Friday. The guard exploded for a career-high 32 points, while Ogunbowale added 27. Napheesa Collier had 24 points for U-Conn.
After the loss, Auriemma reflected on the closing gap in women’s basketball, as he often does at Final Fours. This year was the Huskies’ 11th straight appearance in the national semifinals, but both he and McGraw say the space between Connecticut and the rest of women’s college basketball is narrowing – slowly, but noticeably.
"Unbelievable," said McGraw, who also called this her sweetest win over Connecticut in seven total meetings in the Final Four. "Both games, hard fought battles and exciting for the fans. That had to be a great TV game both times.”
"There's not — there's no easy games here this weekend," Auriemma said. "There's no somebody snuck in there or somebody upset three different people to get here. The four best teams in the country were here, and they played like it. And it was. It was an amazing night of basketball for the fans here, for people watching. It was pretty impressive, I have to say."