The 2017-18 Notre Dame women’s basketball pulled off one of the more impressive feats in college basketball history in the 2017-18 season. Overcoming multiple injuries, playing with a depleted roster and still earning a trip to the Final Four and later a national championship.
The path to the Final Four
Notre Dame came out the gates on a mission, racking up four top-25 wins to start 7-0 before facing UConn for the first time that season. The Huskies disposed of the Fighting Irish 80-71 and gave Notre Dame its first loss of the season.
Entering the heart of ACC play, the Irish were riding an eight-game win streak before getting trounced by then-No. 3 Louisville 100-67. From there, they would go on to finish the regular season with no more losses while adding four more wins against ranked opponents.
The ACC Tournament would also go smoothly until the Fighting Irish met the Louisville Cardinals once again. In the ACC Championship, Notre Dame hung around enough to make it a close game, but in the end, Louisville prevailed once again to win the ACC title.
In the first four rounds of the tournament, the Fighting Irish cruised with their closest game being a six-point win over No. 14 Texas A&M.
Some of the statistical leaders from the season include Arike Ogunbowale averaging 20.8 points per game and Jessica Sheppard racking up 308 rebounds while averaging 15.6 points per game.
Just looking at the record of this Notre Dame team, one would assume they dealt with little hardship. In fact, this team dealt with devastating injuries on four separate occasions and still managed to prevail.
In the 2017 NCAA Tournament, junior Brianna Turner tore her ACL and would remain out the entirety of the 2017-18 season. In the preseason, senior Mychal Johnson tore her ACL. During the season, freshman Mikyala Vaughn and redshirt senior Lilli Thompson each tore an ACL. Just like that, Notre Dame was down to just seven scholarship players.
If you’re doing the math at home, that means Notre Dame had more torn ACLs than losses in the 2017-18 season.
Close but no cigar
Notre Dame has always felt like it was on the cusp of winning it all for the seven years leading up to the 2018 tournament.
In the eight tournaments leading up to 2018, Muffet McGraw and her teams reached five Final Fours, four title games, two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight. In that same time frame, Notre Dame had seven players picked in the WNBA Draft, all but one of those seven were top-10 picks too.
Finishing the job
Once in the Final Four, the Fighting Irish rose to the occasion. In a back and forth battle with undefeated UConn, they managed to keep the Huskies within reach for all four quarters and even had UConn force overtime with a few ticks left on the clock.
In overtime, Notre Dame held the lead until Crystal Dangerfield tied the game at 89 with 27 seconds left. On the inbound pass after a timeout, the Irish would exchange a few passes before eventually finding Arike Ogunbowale who dribbled towards the corner, and nailed the go-ahead jumper to go up 91-89. On UConn’s final possession they attempted a desperation shot that came up just short.
Watch Ogunbowale's semifinals game-winner below.
Notre Dame was set to face Mississippi State in the title game after the Bulldogs defeated the Fighting Irish’s kryptonite that was the Louisville Cardinals 73-63 in overtime.
In the title game, MSU was able to hold a lead from the final two minutes of the first all the way through the third quarter when Notre Dame tied it at 41 with 17 seconds left. The Bulldogs’ lead was as large as 15 at one point in the second half.
It seemed as if the luck of the Irish had run out, as Mississippi State had once again got a five-point lead with less than two minutes to play. But, with a couple of stops and a couple of made shots, it was suddenly a tied game.
With three seconds left, Ogunbowale handled the inbound pass, drove to the corner and nailed a fade-away three with a defender in her face to win Notre Dame’s first women’s basketball title since 2001.
With those two shots, Ogunbowale will be remembered as someone who shot some of the greatest buzzer beaters the sport has ever seen