The 2019 NCAA women’s Final Four had its fair share of noteworthy performances, from Baylor Bears, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, UConn Huskies and Oregon Ducks alike.
None of the teams who advanced to play at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida, would have without players capable of exerting their will on their opponents.
But some just did more.
Two helped guide Notre Dame as far as a team can go without winning it all. Two continued to be as key to Baylor’s success as they had all season. And one hit the game-winning, national-title-winning shot for the Bears.
History may just remember those final few seconds of the tournament and Baylor's win, but these five players, and more, deserve recognition for what they accomplished throughout the weekend of the Final Four. It wouldn’t have been as enthralling without them.
G — Arike Ogunbowale, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish’s senior star etched her name into basketball lore with two game-winning buckets in last season’s Final Four, and while she wasn’t able to send this year’s championship game into overtime, Ogunbowale still showcased her prowess on the court.
Ogunbowale scored 23 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out an assist in Notre Dame’s win against UConn, and then tallied 31 points, six rebounds and an assist against Baylor. That’s an average of 27 points, six rebounds and one assist per game in two games against two of the best programs in the sport. And she was always a factor in the final 20 minutes, too. Ogunbowale scored 21 points in the second half against the Huskies and 17 points in the second half against the Bears.
G — Chloe Jackson, Baylor
So, yeah. Chloe Jackson.
The sound or sheer sight of her name might make Fighting Irish fans cringe for months, maybe longer. And for good reason. Jackson, at the end of a 26-point, five-assist performance, delivered Baylor its third national championship in program history with a layup in the game’s final seconds.
CLUTCH BUCKET: How Chloe Jackson delivered the national title for Baylor
The Bears led for most of the game. At one point in the second quarter they led the Fighting Irish by 17. But even though Notre Dame mounted a furious comeback, Jackson’s steady-yet-electric performance never wavered. She scored the team’s first two points and its final four. Every one mattered.
F — Lauren Cox, Baylor
Cox dropped 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists on Oregon before an eight-point, eight-rebound, injury-shortened performance against Notre Dame.
The numbers she tallied in each box score resemble those she’d recorded all season long for the Bears, but they don’t do her performance justice. The three blocks she had in each game provide a window into what her presence in the paint meant to the Bears’ defense. And even though she was only awarded nine total assists, so many more offensive possessions for Baylor ended in points because of her ability to provide spacing and move the ball effectively.
BAYLOR WINS: How the Bears became national champions
Part of the reason Notre Dame made the run it did late in the championship game was that Cox was out with her injury.
F — Jessica Shepard, Notre Dame
Shepard closed out the last season of her Notre Dame career averaging a double-double, 16.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, in part because of a late-season tear that saw her tally double-doubles in seven of the Fighting Irish’s last eight games. Those final two games, of course, pitted her against UConn and Baylor.
Shepard had 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Huskies, in addition to seven assists, and 11 points and 10 rebounds against the Bears.
Chloe Jackson doesn’t have to hit that layup for Baylor if Shepard doesn’t hit two free throws with less than a minute left to tie the score at 80.
C — Kalani Brown, Baylor
Brown solidified her place among the greats in Baylor history with her performances against Oregon and Notre Dame.
The Bears senior scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds against the Ducks and recorded a double-double, 20 points and 13 rebounds, against the Fighting Irish. She hit close to 70 percent of her shots. She helped Baylor outscore its opponents in the paint by a combined total of 58 points. And even when she didn’t have the ball in her hands or wasn’t affecting shots, she made a difference.
Baylor will miss having her side-by-side with Cox.
- Notre Dame guard Marina Mabrey
- Mabrey averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 assists and three rebounds per game in contests against Baylor and UConn. She recorded a double-double of 12 points and 12 assists against the Huskies before a 21-point game against the Bears that saw her score 12 in the fourth quarter.
- UConn guard Katie Lou Samuelson
- She led the Huskies in scoring with 20 points, in addition to grabbing two rebounds and dishing six assists, in a loss against the Fighting Irish. All of her points came in the second half.
- Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu
- Ionescu had 18 points, six assists and four rebounds in a loss against Baylor. She’ll be back for her senior year, so expect Oregon to challenge for the title again.
- Notre Dame forward Brianna Turner
- Turner averaged 13.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and three blocks per game in contests against Baylor and UConn. Both games saw her record double-doubles, and during the Fighting Irish’s fourth-quarter comeback against the Huskies she scored five points and grabbed nine boards.
- Baylor guard Didi Richards
- Richards averaged 10.5 points, four assists and one rebound per game in contests against Notre Dame and Oregon. She may not have lit up the scoreboard, but her defensive performances in both games are huge reasons why the Bears left the Final Four as national champions.