This one hurt.
Well, as we posted last night, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish women’s basketball team played in the national championship game last night. They were looking to be only the fourth school ever to repeat as champions (UConn, Tennessee, and USC). Unfortunately, they came up one point shy losing in a devastating way to the Baylor Bears. 82-81 was the final score, and this one stings. Let’s recap it and also wrap up an incredible season.
Much of the same story. The Irish came out to a slow start in the first quarter. This one was different, though, as it was a VERY slow start. The Irish were missing shots as Baylor was getting looks from Kalani Brown under the bucket. All of a sudden, we’re halfway through the first quarter, and the Irish are down 15-5 and all out of sorts really. This looked like a slow start that was going to be tough to overcome. Baylor was just dominating in the paint, showing that in the second quarter the Bears had 20 points in the paint to the Irish’s 4. With Brown and Lauren Cox defending, when either Arike, Jackie, or Jess did get open looks, not as much was falling. Baylor ended up shooting 63% in the first half, which is really hard to match.
The second half saw a third quarter where the Irish got more of their mojo back. After being down 43-31 at half, it was still a tough climb for the Irish. However, like always, Arike found more of her stride in the second half. On her way to 31 total points, Arike hit more shots. Marina Mabrey was heating up as well. The Irish were still down 66-55 at the end of the third, but they found some spark and life as Arike hit a buzzer beater 3 to cut the lead from 14 down to 11.
Fortunately but also very unfortunately, the Irish had some help offensively because Lauren Cox for Baylor went down with an excruciating knee injury with about 7 minutes left to go in the game. It was brutal to see, and I absolutely feel for her, her family, and the Baylor team. It looked like a terrible injury, and we wish her a speedy recovery. However, her absence left more room in the lane and under the basket. Baylor’s defense took a blow, and the Irish capitalized. So many more chances under the bucket. Arike, Marina, and Jackie draining shots. The Irish had an 18-9 run going, and it looked like they could pull it off. After being down 17 points at one point, the Irish tied it with a Marina Mabrey 3 and then took the lead on a Jess Shepard free throw. 77-76 with 3:18 to play.
It was very nervy for the rest of the game. Yes, the Irish made a miraculous comeback. Unfortunately, the only points in the final 4:32 of the game came at the free throw line. Arike’s jump shot would be the last shot from the field the Irish would make. That coupled with the very slow first quarter did not help the Irish’s case.
It was still back and forth. After a missed and then made free throw from Jess Shepard, the Irish tied the game back up at 78. Baylor then got the ball, and Chloe Jackson drove the lane for the scoop score. Brianna Turner missed blocking it by about an inch. With 3.9 seconds left, the Irish took a timeout to inbound the ball upcourt down 82-80. Everyone was wondering if we were going to have an “Ogunbowale...for the win” moment again. Arike did get the inbound, went to the bucket, and drew a foul with just over 1 second left to play.
This seemed like a sure shot to at least get the game to overtime. With Cox out for Baylor, the Irish could’ve probably looked to ride their momentum to get the W. But...Arike missed the first free throw. And then, to make it worse, she tried to miss the second one to get the rebound, and she made the shot. That was it. What seemed set up for another heroic comeback victory fell just short. 82-81, and the season was over just like that.
Wrapping It Up
Welp, that was not how we wanted it to end at all. However, as the NDWBB program will get their 1000th victory next season (stuck at 999 right now - ugh), the program has seen some excellent talent. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to the program but these starting 5 especially. Jackie Young is the only one that can come back, and hopefully we don’t lose her to the WNBA Draft. This roster was one of the best teams in program history, and it showed. The team last night did fall short, and you can’t put it all on one player. Remember, last year they did the impossible to get Muffett and the program another national title. They are all going to be remembered as legends. From last season’s heroics to Muffett’s advocacy for women’s sports, this team had all of our hearts. Thank you, seniors. You all are going to do big things.
We’ll catch you all up on things for next season later on, as we welcome in Sam Brunelle and preview what happens with the roster. But, as for now, thanks for following this special team. Remember this and follow along in the years to come as we look to the fearless leader and our queen, Muffett. That statue can still be put up on campus at any time...maybe one right next to one of Arike’s final shot last year.