Bay­lor edges Notre Dame to cap near-per­fect sea­son

Jack­son’s driv­ing layup makes Bears champs

The Buffalo News - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL -

Through­out Bay­lor’s long, glit­ter­ing sea­son of sus­tained ex­cel­lence, the Bears hadn’t seen a team like Notre Dame. Sure, there was that loss at Stan­ford back in De­cem­ber, the blem­ish that coach Kim Mulkey spit­shined away with such dili­gence that her team en­tered Sun­day’s na­tional ti­tle game with a sparkling 28-game win­ning streak. But Stan­ford was not as well-rounded as the Fight­ing Ir­ish, nor as de­ter­mined.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Notre Dame tested the Bears as they had rarely been tested this sea­son, rebounding from a 14-point deficit in the sec­ond half to tie the score with 16 sec­onds to play.

But a driv­ing layup from Chloe Jack­son put Bay­lor up two, and Arike Ogun­bowale, the break­out star of last year’s Fi­nal Four, missed a free throw with a sec­ond re­main­ing.

With their 82-81 win, the No. 1 over­all seed Bears sur­vived to cap a near-per­fect sea­son with a na­tional ti­tle, the pro­gram’s third af­ter cham­pi­onships in 2005 and 2012. Mulkey, the con­sen­sus na­tional Coach of the Year, joins Con­necti­cut’s Geno Auriemma and for­mer Ten­nessee coach Pat Sum­mitt in the ul­tra­ex­clu­sive club of women’s bas­ket­ball coaches with at least three na­tional cham­pi­onships.

Ogun­bowale ended her spec­tac­u­lar col­le­giate ca­reer with a game­high 31 points to lead four Notre Dame play­ers with dou­ble-fig­ure scor­ing, but Bay­lor’s de­fense and sur­vival skills pre­vailed.

Jack­son led the Bears with 26 points, and cen­ter Kalani Brown had 20 points and 13 re­bounds. Bay­lor (37-1), in a statis­tic fit­ting of its dom­i­nance this year, is 3-0 in na­tional ti­tle games.

The Bears fell just once this sea­son, in Stan­ford, Cal­i­for­nia, in De­cem­ber. It was the type of in­de­fati­ga­ble might that Mulkey had seen be­fore — when her team tore through a per­fect 40-0 sea­son to win the ti­tle in 2012. Those who picked against Bay­lor this time around didn’t do so out of doubt of the Bears, but rather be­cause of be­lief in the de­fend­ing cham­pion.

Notre Dame, af­ter all, brought back four of its starters from last year’s team, had two of col­lege bas­ket­ball’s most cre­ative of­fen­sive play­ers in Jackie Young and Ogun­bowale and pos­sessed a dy­namic duo of its own down low to chal­lenge Brown and Lau­ren Cox.

But the Fight­ing Ir­ish (35-4) got off to a poor start and trailed, look­ing frus­trated, un­til late in the third quar­ter.

Still, the crowd of 20,127 at Amalie Arena knew bet­ter than to get com­fort­able with a team that won its na­tional ti­tle last year on a buzzer-beater. The game’s tenor changed when Cox fell down un­der Notre Dame’s bas­ket, clutch­ing her left knee and rolling around on the court with 1:22 to play in the third quar­ter. The arena went quiet when she fell, and Mulkey walked over to hold her close and say a few words be­fore Cox left the court in tears in a wheel­chair.

“I could cry right now,” Mulkey told ESPN’s Holly Rowe on the broad­cast, “but I have to go work.”

Play­ing with­out Cox in the fourth quar­ter, when Notre Dame is of­ten at its strong­est, was no small feat for Bay­lor. Trail­ing by 10 at the start of the pe­riod, the Fight­ing Ir­ish tied the score at 74 with 5:18 to play af­ter Ma­rina Mabrey hit three 3-point­ers in 123 sec­onds, and they took the lead two min­utes, their first since early in the first quar­ter. Bay­lor and Notre Dame jock­eyed for po­si­tion for the rest of the game un­til Jack­son put the Bears ahead 82-80 with five sec­onds to go.

Ogun­bowale, the hero of last year’s Fi­nal Four af­ter her back-to-back buzzer-beat­ers lifted Notre Dame to its first na­tional ti­tle since 2001, was fouled with one sec­ond left. She missed one free throw, fling­ing her head back in frus­tra­tion, then hit the next af­ter try­ing to miss, and there was al­most no time left from there.

Even with Cox’s in­jury, that Notre Dame was able to stage a come­back was no sur­prise. coach Muf­fet McGraw has called her squad a fourthquar­ter team, know­ing it shows up in crunchtime. Still, its start Sun­day had to have her sweat­ing.

The Fight­ing Ir­ish couldn’t get any­thing to fall de­spite good looks against Bay­lor’s smoth­er­ing de­fense and solid sec­ond chances at the rim thanks to Jes­sica Shep­ard and Bri­anna Turner. They made 1 of 13 field goals in the first five min­utes, and the Bears took ad­van­tage for a 15-5 lead.

The ad­van­tage reached 17 with 6:38 left in the half, with Notre Dame la­bor­ing through long pos­ses­sions to come away with a midrange jumper or, more of­ten, noth­ing. On the other end, Bay­lor made scor­ing look easy, es­pe­cially when the buck­ets came from Jack­son.

The Bears’ point guard, whose nat­u­ral po­si­tion is shoot­ing guard, had 14 points on 7-for-10 shoot­ing, three as­sists and a steal at half­time af­ter not scor­ing at all in the first half against Ore­gon on Fri­day in the semi­fi­nals.

Getty Im­ages

Bay­lor’s Chloe Jack­son at­tempts a shot against Notre Dame’s Jackie Young, left, and Trin­ity Oliver Sun­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.