Notre Dame women oust UConn again, will face Baylor in title game

Oregon junior guard Sabrina Ionescu goes up for a shot during the second half of a women's NCAA Tournament second-round game against Indiana Sunday

Oregon junior guard Sabrina Ionescu goes up for a shot during the second half of a women's NCAA Tournament second-round game against Indiana Sunday

Moments after her team's 81-76 victory over rival UConn in Friday night's national semifinals, Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw danced an Irish jig in high heels at mid-court. She didn't nail any buzzer beaters Friday night, but she still played big for the Fighting Irish in crunch time.

After a Jessica Shepard jumper provided Notre Dame a 74-73 lead - an unbelievable 26th lead change in the game to go with nine ties - with 1:30 remaining, Ogunbowale grabbed a UConn miss and converted two free throws. The Huskies then got the ball inside to first-team All-American Napheesa Collier for what looked like an easy score before Turner blocked the shot, and grabbed the rebound.

Arike Ogunbowale hit two free throws to push their lead to three points with less than a minute to go.

"My only mindset was that UConn's season was going to end tonight no matter what it took", said Turner, who set the school career record with her 371st in the game. Turner made the biggest defensive play of the night, and of her career, with 49 seconds left and the Irish clinging to a 76-73 lead.

If UConn-Tennessee was once the best rivalry in women's college basketball, Notre Dame has since replaced the Vols as the Huskies' top challenger.

UConn had never lost three straight years in the Final Four until now.

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It was hard to swallow. "I got more than twice as many messages for getting fired then I did when I won the damn Super Bowl". He said something about the offense and the special teams, and he didn't think it was going to get any better.

Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale had 23 points and six assists in Friday's victory against CT.

The win was not only Notre Dame's second straight in the Final Four against UConn, it was the Irish's ninth in the past 10 seasons over the Huskies. Turner took two trips to the line of her own, sinking three of four foul throws to seal the win for Notre Dame. A running jumper by UConn freshman Christyn Williams at the horn provided the Huskies with a 30-29 halftime advantage.

Katie Lou Samuelson just couldn't find the bottom of the net in the first half, scoring zero points on five shot attempts, four of which came from behind the arc.

Thankfully for Geno Auriemma's side, Samuelson showed up in the third quarter, scoring 15 points. Ogunbowale, who put the Huskies down a year ago with a game-winning, last-second shot, hit another two free throws to make it a five-point game. Samuelson three-pointer, Ogunbowale three-pointer. Samuelson got the last dig after she was fouled behind the arc and hit a trio of free throws to put CT up 54-52 heading into the fourth quarter. The clutch gene has a way of emerging late, just as it did for quarterback Joe Montana in the fourth quarter. Turner finished with a double-double of 15 points and as many rebounds, as well as five blocks. Jessica Shepard gave the Irish the lead for good on a mid-range jumper with 90 seconds left, part of a game-changing 26-9 surge that secured a spot for the Irish in Sunday's national title game.

What's been a little overshadowed is Turner's new-found proficiency at the free throw line. In the eight games since the ACC Tournament, though, she is 26 of 30 from the charity stripe (86.7 percent). Notre Dame was 1-of-11. It's also a case of accepting a team role among so many other stars and maximizing it.

Down by six points with five minutes to play, Ogunbowale connected on a three-pointer. Notre Dame turned those extra opportunities into 14 second-chance points, which was a huge boost to their struggling offense. She still has to make those shots and she did.

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