TAMPA — Notre Dame’s senior class won a lot of games during their time in South Bend and were so close to adding one more. The Fighting Irish fell just short of a second consecutive national title, falling to Baylor, 82-81, in the national championship game. Notre Dame fell behind by as many as 17 points in the second quarter, staring into the face of almost certain defeat. Then, the Fighting Irish did just that — fight.
Two of those seniors, Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey, led a fierce comeback that saw the Irish overcome the 17-point deficit to tie the game at 80 with just 16 seconds left. The Irish were unable to turn the tides completely as Ogunbowale missed the first of two free throws that would have tied the game with just over one second remaining in regulation.
“You know, it's always tough to lose,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw. “I think you're always looking at that one thing you could have done differently to make the difference in the game. Just disappointed about our start. I mean, that was really unfortunate.”
“But knowing what this group has meant to us, it makes it tougher to lose this way.”
Despite the loss, the Notre Dame senior class had a successful run in South Bend. They won at least 33 games in each of the last four seasons at Notre Dame.
“They won a national championship, they made it to the national championship this year,” says junior guard Jackie Young. “It just shows how great they are. It shows how great the Notre Dame program is. Just what they brought to the team, to women’s basketball in general.”
Notre Dame’s senior-laden starting five did not just win games. They were one of the most potent offensive teams in NCAA history. The starting five of Ogunbowale, Mabrey, Young (a junior), Brianna Turner and Jessica Shepard finished with a combined 10,230 career points, which stands as the most in both Division I men’s and women’s basketball all-time.
“It’s hard to look at the big picture right now but looking back we had one of the best starting fives in college basketball history,” said Mabrey. “So, that’s to hold with us and stand for. Either way, we still wanted to win. Our team isn’t really focused on individual stuff, so this hurts more.”
Ogunbowale was a huge part of that productivity as the 5-foot-8-inch guard finished her career with a program record 2,626 points.
“I think she's going to be a great player in the WNBA,” said McGraw of Ogunbowale. “She is incredibly skilled, great work ethic, wants to win. She can score in a lot of different ways. Yeah, I think she's going to be a star.”
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Shepard thinks that the impact the senior class had will go on to benefit the team in following seasons.
“I think, as upperclassmen, we just wanted to lead the way for the younger kids,” said Shepard. “Show them what it takes to get there, what it takes to win. Obviously, we came up short, but I know they’ll learn from it.”
“I’m just thankful that I made the choice to come to Notre Dame,” said Shepard, who transferred from Nebraska after her sophomore season. “The last two years have been great. It’s been great to play for a Hall of Famer, this coaching staff. To get to play with these girls, it’s been really special.”
Looking back, Mabrey was happy that she had the chance to don the Notre Dame uniform.
“It means everything to me. It was really weird taking [my jersey] off,” said Mabrey. “It’s over, it’s time to move on and I appreciate everything Notre Dame has given to me. My coaches have taught me a lot. I feel like this place is second to none and I think if I had to make the decision again, I would pick Notre Dame again.”
These seniors will leave a legacy of winning at Notre Dame. While they would have liked to add one more victory in their final game, the group will be remembered for a four-year run that had the Irish right at the top of the college basketball world.