The 50th meeting of the women’s basketball teams from Notre Dame and UConn did not disappoint.
More than 20,000 fans saw the fireworks — a game that featured 26 lead changes, hard fouls, momentum-changing three-pointers and two veteran coaches at their very best.
But in the end, it was Notre Dame coming out on top, taking a 81-76 win over UConn, and punching their ticket to the championship game for the seventh time.
Muffet McGraw’s side will have the chance to defend their 2018 national championship on Sunday against Baylor.
Cold start for Samuelson, strong finish
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. The senior is UConn’s second-leading scorer and arguably its top three-point shooter. To have a chance, the Huskies needed her.
Thankfully for Geno Auriemma’s side, Samuelson showed up in the third quarter, scoring 15 points. In the final 39 seconds of the period, she connected on a shot from behind the arc and knocked down a trio of free throws to give the Huskies a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
However, it wasn’t enough.
In her final showing as a UConn Husky, Samuelson finished with 20 points, five rebounds and six assists.
Also in her last UConn game, Napheesa Collier notched 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Big game Arike
Arike Ogunbowale made a name for herself at last year’s Final Four by hitting game-winners. She didn’t nail any buzzer beaters Friday night, but she still played big for the Fighting Irish in crunch time.
Down by six points with five minutes to play, Ogunbowale connected on a three-pointer. Two possessions later, she stole the ball and hit a mid-range jumper to give the Irish a two-point lead.
In the final five minutes of the game, Ogunbowale tallied 11 points, a rebound and a steal.
She finished with a stat line of 23 points and six rebounds.
Of course, Notre Dame didn’t win this game only because of Ogunbowale’s stellar play.
Jessica Shepard poured in a double-double with 20 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. Marina Mabrey was seriously dealing, doling out 12 assists in addition to her 12 points and three rebounds. Brianna Turner protected the rim with five blocks while notching a double-double of her own with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
Defensively, Notre Dame held UConn to 29 percent shooting from three-point range, forced the Huskies into seven turnovers and dominated the rebounding battle, 54-37.
The only thing standing between the Irish and its second straight championship? The Baylor Lady Bears.
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.