COLUMBUS, OHIO – So how do they top that Sunday night?
The two national women’s basketball semifinals Friday night were packed with drama, lead changes, emotion and huge shots that sent the games into overtime.
Mississippi State’s Roshunda Johnson hit the tying three-pointer with 7 seconds left to take the first game into overtime. The Bulldogs then outlasted Louisville in OT to earn their second national title game berth in as many years.
The second game saw perennial power UConn claw back time after time as the game wound down, only to lose it when Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale’s hit a jumper from the corner with 1 second left.
“Unbelievable,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “First time we’ve ever had two overtime games in the Final Four. I think just great basketball. Both games, hard-fought battles and exciting for the fans.”
Most of the Mississippi State team ended up in Victoria Vivians’ hotel room watching the rowdy end of the Notre Dame-UConn game.
“It was pretty phenomenal,” said Vivians, an All-America guard who had 25 points against Louisville. “And I feel like tomorrow you have two great teams playing again. They both played in overtime last night, and we both know what to expect. I feel like it’s going to be a great game to watch.”
A William copycat
In the 2017 semifinals, Morgan William of Mississippi State hit a 15-foot jumper as overtime expired, ending UConn’s 111-game winning streak, and all 5 feet 3 inches of her disappeared into a celebrative pile of teammates.
“I believe it gave hope to teams that they can beat UConn as well,” William said Saturday. “Over the years, people have been complaining that UConn’s too good, they just dominate everyone. I feel like there’s programs out there that can get the job done.”
By Saturday morning, William had not yet contacted Ogunbowale, but she said she would probably tell her before Sunday’s tipoff: “You’re an All-American. You’re supposed to do that. I’m proud of you.”
UConn’s locker room was mostly silent after its heartbreaking loss. Some players held their faces in their hands, and others stared at the ceiling. Their eyes were red from crying. A couple of them hugged and comforted each other.
“I’ve been saying for the last 15 or 20 years that winning national championships is hard,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “And I don’t think anybody ever believed me because it just seemed so routine for a while. These last two years is a big reminder that this is really hard to do.”
The underlying theme all season was redemption and the Huskies fell short.
“Probably more painful. It’s the same kind of situation,” UConn All-America Katie Lou Samuelson said. “Went into overtime, they got a last-second shot. It happens.”
The defeat ended the stellar careers of seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams.
Tall task coming up
Notre Dame’s next tall task is slowing Teaira McCowan.
Mississippi State’s 6-7 center continued her NCAA tournament dominance on Friday, scoring 21 points and grabbing 25 rebounds against Louisville. When she got her 24th of the game, McCowan broke the rebounding mark set by Charlotte Smith of North Carolina in 1994. She posted just the third 20-20 game in women’s Final Four history. Her 92 rebounds are the most ever in a single tournament.
Notre Dame’s Jessica Shepard (6-4) and Kathryn Westbeld (6-2) will be charged with trying to keep McCowan in check.
“She is a force inside, a tremendous player,” McGraw said. “Works the boards like nobody I’ve ever seen. She’s a tremendous rebounder, a phenomenal player inside. She’s so dominant. We haven’t faced anybody like that.”
Kobe liked it
Kobe Bryant was there Friday night and even tweeted at Ogunbowale after her game-winning shot.
“Big time shot Arike! We are a (at)UConnWBB family but we love seeing great players making great plays,” Bryant tweeted.
Ogunbowale tweeted back: “Wow, my life is complete.”
But Bryant wasn’t done yet: “Nah... it’s complete by finishing the job on Sunday.”