It is SO fantastic to type those words! This team. Man, this team. Such fight and a passion and desire to be great. They did just that.
After 17 years of coming up shy, especially in the last 7 years, this one feels a little extra special. Our team is amazing, and they are truly great. With a trophy and lore to their name, the 2017-18 Fighting Irish Women’s Basketball Team are champions. No one can take that away from them. Only 7 scholarship players for most of the season. They didn’t care about that at all. They had the determination and the conditioning along with the mental toughness to get the job done.
I’m SO damn proud of this team. Utter jubilation right here for me and for the Fighting Irish faithful. This one goes out to all of Irish Nation and the Notre Dame Family. It is especially for, though, the season ticket holders. It is for people who watch and tune in to support the team, the school, and the coaches. It is for the band. It is for the students and their peers who see them succeed on the biggest stage. It is for past players that helped lead the program to this moment. This one is for all of those people, but it is especially for the program - coaches and the players. They get the job done with poise, class, and a respectiful attitude toward the game and toward student-athletes. THEY DID IT.
How It Happened
Ok, so we won. How did it all shake out against Mississippi State? Let’s delve into the doozy that was this year’s Women’s Basketball National Championship game.
The Irish actually came out swinging a bit. After taking just over the first 6 minutes of the game to get to a 12-6 lead, the Bulldogs started to slip past our defense a bit. One thing that I will say is that throughout the whole game, our defense was stifiling. Holding Miss. St. to 58 points is a big deal. We played zone a lot of the night, and we were able to double team Teaira McCowan a lot. too. McCowan is very tall, which helped the Bulldogs especially on offensive rebounds. However, the Irish were only out-rebounded 38-35 for the whole game. The Bulldogs got some shots, and we subsequently started to go VERY cold on the offensive side of the ball. After the end of the first quarter, the Bulldogs led 17-14.
The second quarter was UGLY. That is the understatement of the decade. The Irish went flat out cold, scoring only 1 FG and 1 FT for 3 points. Yes, that did happen. Wow it was incredibly frustrating. Luckily, the defense still continued to step up. The Bulldogs got some shots, but they only scored 13 points in that quarter as well. Victoria Vivians was hitting shots from both inside and outside of the arc. At halftime, Miss. St. led 30-17. Luckily, we can forget about that quarter pretty easily.
As we have seen in now 5 out of 6 games in this year’s tournament, the Irish were either tied or losing at halftime. Resilience has been so key in the tournament for the Irish. They did not get discouraged, and they came out on fire to start the half. A few buckets after a few minutes dropped the Bulldog lead to 8 points. We had changed up our offense so that we could look for more transition shots. We ran more isolation plays so that we didn’t give the Bulldogs a chance to defend as well as they had been. Miss. St. did have excellent defense. They caused us fits in the first half with their continuous press at both ends of the floor. Both teams’ defenses were outstanding.
However, Vivians and Blair Schaefer hit some dagger three point shots to help the Bulldogs take a 15-point lead, 40-25, with 6 and a half minutes left in the third quarter. It was looking like the Irish were going to suffer for that terrible second quarter. However, something clicked for the rest of the quarter. With the change up in defense, the Irish got physical under the hoop, forcing fouls and also getting tough shots to fall in the lane. With 16 seconds left in the quarter, Jessica Shepard made a tough hoop to tie the game at 41. That is where we stood with one quarter to play. The Irish went on a 16-1 run to end the quarter and give us some serious life in this game.
The fourth quarter was, in a word, nuts. Back and forth. McCowan and Vivians with shots to take leads. We would come right back with our changed offense to meet the Bulldogs’ shots. We exchanged FGs or FTs. However, with a 2-point lead, the Bulldogs had the ball. Roshunda Johnson, the player who hit the 3-pointer to send their semifinal game against Louisville to OT, hit just a dagger of a 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs a 5-point lead with 2 minutes left. It was Johnson’s first bucket of the game, and it was clutch. The Irish absolutely responded. With a quiet night and Final Four overall, Marina Mabrey stepped up and drained a 3-pointer with a minute and a half to play. It was the first 3 pointer for the Irish in the game. Very unusual for this team. Score now 58-56. After a rebound by Arike Ogunbowale and an over-the-back foul on McCowan, the Irish had the ball. With a great pass from Kathryn Westbeld, Jackie Young took the ball to the hoop to get the layup and tie the game at 58 with 46 seconds remaining.
After some back and forth with no buckets, the Irish get the ball with no shot clock and a chance to win. In a mad scramble with 10 seconds left, Mabrey loses the ball off a dribble, McCowan steals it and passes to Morgan William. She loses the ball to Jackie Young. Jackie gets fouled when McCowan reaches to try to steal the ball. It was mayhem. Miss. St. had numbers to win the game with a seemingly easy shot. Then, if McCowan hadn’t fouled, Arike would’ve gotten a completely wide open layup with about 1 second left to go in the game. However, the Irish got the ball, and had an inbound play with 3 seconds flat left to go in the game.
Now, for “The Shot” 2.0.
On the inbound play, Jackie inbounds to Arike in the corner. Arike throws up a rainbow 3....and IT DROPS. It was absolutely unbelievable. The buzzer went off. The refs of course had to mess up the moment and put 0.1 seconds back on the clock leading to confusion. Miss. St. players had already walked to the locker room. They had to come back to inbound the ball for a physically impossible shot. However, the horn sounded again, and Arike did it again. Mamba Mentality. Ice in her veins. She sealed the national championship! Final score: 61-58.
Some Final Thoughts
This run was truly impressive. Arike of course was incredible, but this team wanted it so badly. Mike Vorel said it well here:
This is far from Muffet McGraw's most talented team at Notre Dame. But, my God, it's so clearly her toughest.— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) April 2, 2018
They are tough. From teams in the past few years, this Irish team was not the most talented, but they are now one of the best. The completed the task. They got it done.
A couple of other things we cannot forget about as well:
- Muffett McGraw got her 800th win at Notre Dame last night. What a way to get your 800th win! Her coaching job, along with her staff, will go down as one of the best coaching jobs in the history of sports.
- Also, the Irish overcame the largest deficit in a national championship game. Arike’s shot was simply unbelievable, but the storming back was outstanding.
Notre Dame trailed by 15 points with 6:41 left in the 3rd quarter. After outscoring Mississippi State 36-18 the rest of the way, the Fighting Irish completed the largest comeback in women's national title game history. pic.twitter.com/ntRHEH8bf7— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 2, 2018
What a game. What a Final Four. What crazy shots. What a season. Ups and downs, but the goal is complete. The Irish are national champions. Thank you to the whole team. Every player played a part. Thank you for letting us be along for the ride.
We will leave you with this, because we all need it.