Jessica Shepard’s jumper with 1:29 left in the game sparked a 9-0 run that lifted defending champion and top-seeded Notre Dame to an 81-76 win over second-seeded Connecticut in the NCAA Women’s Tournament Final Four on Friday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
Arike Ogunbowale added four straight foul shots for a 78-73 lead with 40.4 seconds remaining, followed by three more free throws by Brianna Turner that wrapped up the game.
Ogunbowale scored 21 of her game-high 23 points in the second half for the Fighting Irish (35-3), who meet top-seeded Baylor in the national championship game Sunday night. The Bears eliminated second-seeded Oregon 72-67 in Friday’s first semifinal.
Shepard finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. Turner had 15 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots, including a critical rejection of Napheesa Collier’s attempted layup with 49 seconds remaining in a three-point game. Marina Mabrey chipped in 12 points and 12 assists, and Jackie Young scored 11 points for Notre Dame.
Katie Lou Samuelson scored all 20 of her points in the second half to pace the Huskies (35-3). Christyn Williams added 19, while Collier collected 15 points and 13 rebounds for her eighth consecutive double-double. Megan Walker hit for 14 points.
Poor shooting marred both teams’ efforts in the first half. Connecticut hit only 13 of 36 shots from the field and Notre Dame was a wretched 14 of 42. But the Huskies were able to establish a 16-8 first quarter lead when Collier canned a 3-pointer with two minutes left in the frame.
The Irish cut the margin to 16-12 at quarter’s end, and scored the second quarter’s first eight points for a 20-16 lead on Shepard’s layup with 7:51 left in the first half. But Connecticut was able to answer, eventually taking a 30-29 edge into intermission on a Williams bucket with three seconds left.
Both teams got going in the third quarter — particularly Samuelson, who tallied 15 points after being shut out in the first half. The senior sank three free throws with a second left in the third period to give the Huskies a 54-52 advantage going to the fourth.
—Field Level Media