Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 20 of 63 MAY 2018 21 stole an in-bounds Irish pass on the side that she converted into a break- away lay-up to knot the score at 79. Following another Irish turnover, UConn had the ball on its side of the floor with 3.6 seconds left, but a 10-foot bank shot by Gabby Williams came up short. A golden opportunity to put away the game in regulation was missed by the Irish, but it didn't demoralize them. "Arike, I think, was madder than anyone," McGraw said. "She wanted the ball in her hands, and we put it there at the end of the game." • In the overtime, Notre Dame appeared to have the game in hand again with an 89-84 advantage and 44 seconds left — but a Collier basket, two missed free throws by Ogunbowale and a Crystal Danger- field three-pointer tied the game once more at 89. The Irish took a timeout with 14 seconds remaining to set up the final shot for Ogunbowale, who drained it just inside the three-point arc with one second remaining. "They're a great team, and we're a great team," Ogunbowale said. "There's no need for us to be scared of anybody. Coach McGraw recruits players that are made for this mo- ment. We're all hungry to win." GRAND FINALE Mississippi State was to Notre Dame what Finland was to the 1980 USA "Miracle On Ice" gold-medal hockey team. After stunning the previously in- vincible Red Army team of the So- viet Union two days earlier, Team USA still had to defeat Finland for the gold — and trailed going into the final period before prevailing. Likewise, the Fighting Irish scored the final eight points versus the Bull- dogs, with Ogunbowale's well de- fended and slightly off-balance three- pointer with 0.1 seconds left now the most famous basket in Notre Dame history — and ranking with any in NCAA annals. After Mississippi State's 6-7 cen- ter Teaira McCowan — who finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds — fouled out with three seconds remaining and the score tied at 58, Notre Dame planned on the in- bounds play on its side of the court to get the ball inside to the 6-4 Shepard (19 points, on 8-of-10 shooting, and six rebounds). The Bulldogs defended Shepard well, so a cutting Ogunbowale took the inbound pass from Young, took two dribbles to her right and launched her rainbow shot right in front of the Notre Dame bench, swishing it through for the title. For much of the contest, it ap- peared the Fighting Irish would be college basketball bridesmaids for the fifth time in eight seasons because of a miserable second quarter in which they were outscored 13-3 (the fewest points scored by one team ever in one quarter in the tournament) to enter the halftime locker room down 30-17. "We've been down before so we knew we would be able to come back," Ogunbowale said. Just like the Bulldogs dominated the second quarter, Notre Dame, af- ter falling behind 40-25, finished the third quarter on a 16-1 run to knot Five Defining Moments Of 2017-18 The buzzer-beating baskets by junior guard Arike Ogunbowale in both Final Four victories will be im- mortalized in college basketball lore, but to reach that level there were at least five events that defined how Notre Dame even managed to get there. 1. Shepard's Delight (And Notre Dame's) On Nov. 1, the NCAA ruled that two-time All-Big Ten forward Jessica Shepard would not have to sit out the 2017-18 season after transferring in the spring from Nebraska. That was an immense, game-changing break, basically cancelling out the medical redshirt season this year for All-American forward Brianna Turner. Shepard's low-post power, passing and aggressiveness provided balance to the Irish attack. She recorded 16 double-doubles, including four in the NCAA Tournament where she averaged 19.0 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 58.1 percent from the field. 2. Making Her Point Dating back to March 2017, this past Dec. 31 Notre Dame lost its fourth point guard (starter Lili Thomp- son) for the season, and no scholarship guards remained on the bench. Junior Marina Mabrey, a superb shooter, had never played the position but took the reins, relieved at times by sophomore Jackie Young. Head coach Muffet McGraw admitted Mabrey might be the only person in the operation more fe- rociously competitive than her. Even though Mabrey wasn't a natural at the position, opponents soon got the "point" about Notre Dame's toughness and resilience. 3. Turning Point Sometimes it takes the worst to bring out the best. On Jan. 12, Notre Dame's 100-67 loss at Louisville was its worst margin of defeat in 24 years, and game tape wasn't even reviewed. "We're not going to learn a damn thing except we've got to play hard," McGraw summarized on eschewing watching the film. One week later, Notre Dame trailed 37-14 versus Tennessee at home. Suddenly, a new spirit emerged with just seven remaining scholarship players. They communicated, listened and galvanized, plans were implemented and followed, and ferocity, focus and fearlessness reigned. Notre Dame went on to defeat the Volunteers by 14 points. In their last four NCAA Tournament games, the Irish trailed at the half each time and rallied from 13, nine, 11 and 15 points to win. It had become part of their DNA. 4. Whine Fest Prohibited With two teammates transferred and four out with ACL tears, there were plenty of "outs" with which to alibi, but standards never changed as long as five players could take the floor. "After one person went down, she would change everything again to fit our team," senior forward Kathryn Westbeld said of McGraw. "And then the next person — and then she'd have to change everything again and again. Our defense and offense changed so many times, and she never put her head down. She never gave up on us. "She was just trying to find the right fit for all of us. We kept fighting, and she kept leading us to the national championship." 5. Year Of 'The Kat' At the awards banquet April 10, McGraw's most emotional moment came in her tribute to Westbeld. The senior exemplified the team's toughness because it appeared for a while she might not even be able to play this season after major ankle surgery and then numerous other setbacks, including a shiner around her eye. "I'm really happy that I stuck it out and just played through the pain this season," Westbeld said. "This team made it so much easier just to want to play for them and for each other." Unable to practice most of the year, she provided a perfect chemistry and inspiration to the squad with her basketball IQ and leadership. "I don't think there's a tougher player in women's basketball," McGraw said. "She's the glue that kept us together, the calm in the storm — we're really going to miss her." — Lou Somogyi

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