Irish return to campus following national championship heartbreak

Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale had 23 points and six assists in Friday’s victory against Connecticut

The thrill of victory.

Head coach Kim Mulkey of the Baylor Lady Bears is interviewed after the 82-81 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to win the championship game of the 2019 NCAA Women's Final Four at Amalie Arena on April 07, 2019 in Tampa, Florida.

"There's a lot of pressure on them, things they shouldn't have to be thinking about at this moment, at this juncture when it's so important for us as a team to come out and play well without that hanging on their head", Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. The Irish were able to rally from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter to tie it at 78 in the fourth.

Ogunbowale led the charge again Sunday, scoring 17 of her 31 points in the second half.

Still, the stakes of it raised further still when Lauren Cox, she of the never-ending wingspan and remarkable defensive versatility, crumpled to the floor with an injury so severe, she needed to be wheeled off, crying into the top of her jersey as she left her team in the hands of the seniors, Kalani Brown and Jackson.

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Pretending that I'm not disappointed by the outcome of Sunday's national championship matchup between Notre Dame and Baylor would be pointless. Plus, two nights earlier, UConn had an nearly identical lead (64-55) on the Irish with 7:55 left before falling 81-76. But the fates weren't with or her team this time, in fact, the ending was quite the opposite.

This game between the Huskies and the Irish was a rematch of last season's Final Four classic that Notre Dame won on a last-second shot by Ogunbowale. "It's tough", Ogunbowale told reporters. It also would be their final advantage. There was no doubt who they'd turn to after Chloe Jackson made a tiebreaking layup for Baylor with 3.9 seconds left. They could not hit free throws or rebound the ball which eventually led to UConn pulling away.

The Fighting Irish opened with their typical slow start, converting only one of their first 16 field goal attempts while Baylor was 8 of 11 to build a quick 17-7. "It was much more than that", Notre Dame's Brianna Turner said.

"She's our leader", Jackson said.

Mulkey took over a Baylor program in 2000 that never had any national relevance, and turned it into the beast of the Big 12. It reminded us of that same toughness the Fighting Irish showcased past year while overcoming so many setbacks to win it all.

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Brown had 22 points and seven rebounds, and Lauren Cox added 21 points, 11 boards and seven assists in the Lady Bears' 72-67 semifinal win over Oregon. How the Lady Bears got the No. 1 overall seed, and carried that straight through to a title.

"The same two", McGraw said after Friday night's 81-76 semifinal win over UConn. The Irish were not "playing not to lose" and attacked aggressively but could not quite build the coveted two-score lead that it did in the closing minutes versus UConn.

For more than 28 minutes, Baylor appeared to be in complete control. No one ever seems open, and virtually every point has to be earned.

On Friday night, the Notre Dame women's basketball team took on UConn in the Final Four.

To get to the championship game, Notre Dame took out No. 2-seeded University of CT in the Final Four.

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