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Notre Dame women's basketball wins national championship on final shot

COLUMBUS, Oh. - For the second time in program history, Notre Dame is once again atop the women's college basketball world.

The Irish defeated the Mississippi State Bulldogs 61-58 at the last possible moment, as Arike Ogunbowale hit her second game-winning shot in as many games.

"It's just crazy that we're the number one team in the country," said Ogunbowale, who finished with 18 points. "That's what I came to this school to do, to bring a national title to South Bend.”

Challenge completed.

The winner essentially mirrored the All-American junior's shot just two days prior, which handed previously undefeated Connecticut its first loss and gave the Irish a chance to play for a national title in the first place.

"Any time I’m in the gym, I’m doing last second shots," she said. "[I take] fadeaway shots, just all different types. I guess I was just made for that situation."

“It's every player’s dream to make a shot like that," said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw. "You start in your driveway at eight years old making those shots. She’s made so many big shots for us all year long. To come back from the first half she had, and have the confidence to take that shot, it’s unbelievable.”

Despite her dramatic turnaround from the first half, Ogunbowale wasn't alone in her early struggles.

The Irish jumped out to a lead, but went cold to end the first quarter. Then they scored just three points in the second. Their 13-point deficit marked the third game in a row where the Irish trailed at halftime.

Still, every player said - at least after the game - that there was no panic in the locker room.

“We knew that we’ve been in this situation before and even worse and fought back and won the game," said senior Kathryn Westbeld, who ended her career by winning a title in her home state of Ohio. "We absolutely knew it was possible."

"I was a little worried that we only had 17 points," said junior guard Marina Mabrey. "That was a little nerve wracking, but we just said 'don't try to get it all back at once.' We had to claw back and get them with their backs against the wall."

In the end, Ogunbowale's buzzer-beater capped the largest comeback, from 15 points down in the third quarter, in national championship game history.

The title win ended a four-game drought in championship game appearances, and came exactly 17 years after the Irish stormed back to beat Purdue in the finals on April 1, 2001.

Combine the obvious excitement with the anniversary connection, and things come full circle. But going further, the win also happened to be McGraw's 800th on the sidelines at Notre Dame.

"It's unbelievable. The way we finished couldn't be more exciting, and that it's 17 years to the day," she said. "This one is for all the players in between."

When asked if those factors added up to one of the best days in her life, she admitted it was in the conversation.

“The first [championship] is so exciting, and even that was an ugly game also. I’m not sure which one was uglier, but they both feel great. Outside of the birth of my son and my wedding day, I’d say those two are definitely in the top five.” 

What's made the season so special for the Irish is what the team has overcome, including the tournament deficits and especially the injuries throughout.

However, the 2019 title is already on some minds given what is returning.

Aside from Westbeld, every Irish starter will be back next season along with former All-American forward Brianna Turner, freshman Mikayla Vaughn, and a talented incoming class of recruits.

"I think we have all the pieces we need next year," said Mabrey. "Best believe we'll be back."

But that's next year.

In the meantime, the Irish are set to return Monday afternoon for a ceremony along Notre Dame Avenue, where they'll present the national championship trophy in the shadow of the Golden Dome.

ABC 57's Andrea Alvarez was at the Linebacker Lounge to speak with Irish fans and see how they felt after the Irish victory. 

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