Baylor Lady Bears overcame a strong late push of the defending national champions Notre Dame Fighting Irish and secured their third NCAA basketball title. In a thrilling ending, Baylor won 82-81 and clinched a trophy for the first time since 2012, when they also defeated Notre Dame.
Arike Ogunbowale might have prevented that, but one of the best college players missed her first free throw with 1.9 seconds to go, and Lady Bears’ advantage, 82-80. She hit the second one, but that wasn’t enough.
Prior to that, Chloe Jackson played the role of her life. She scored four straight points, on both occasions giving the lead to her team. With 3.9 seconds to go, she was ice-cold, driving to the basket making a layup which lifted Baylor to 82-80.
But not only that, Jackson was the person who stopped the furious rush of the Fighting Irish and replaced Baylor’s star player Lauren Cox who suffered a horrific knee injury and had to leave the game in the third quarter.
Notre Dame used that situation and made an 11-0 run coming down to just two points, after being behind 14 at one moment. In the last few minutes of the game, neither side managed to be efficient, and defenses did most of the job, but somehow Baylor denied rival’s push.
Jackson who had 26 points and 8 rebounds stepped up and decided this one, becoming an immortal figure in Baylor’s history.
The contribution of Kalani Brown also needs to be acknowledged. Lady Bear’s center had a huge double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds, six of them offensive. NaLyssa Smith had 14 buckets of the bench with 6 boards, and she also did her job perfectly, shooting 7 of 9 from the field.
Ogunbowale had another fantastic game, and dropped a game-high 31 points, 17 of them in the second half. Unfortunately, she couldn’t repeat another miracle in the final moments, like in against UConn or during the last year’s finals.
Marina Mabery was right behind her with 21 points, and Briana Turner had 12 points and boards each. Jessica Shepard also posted a double-double, 11 points, 10 boards.
Notre Dame was chasing its 1,000th win, but it seems that they have to wait for the start of the next season to reach that fantastic landmark.