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Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Rob Knox on WF4: Weekend in Columbus Was One For the Ages

By ROB KNOX

@knoxrob1

 

Thanks to a shot for the ages from Arike Ogunbowale, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish completed a memorable and emotionally exhilarating ride to the top of the women’s basketball summit. 

 

Ogunbowale, who provided a pair of signature moments that will last a lifetime, swished a three-pointer with 0.1 second remaining to lift Notre Dame to its first national championship in 17 seasons with an improbable 61-58 victory over Mississippi State in a thriller at Nationwide Arena Sunday night.

 

Moments like that are what makes sports special. 

 

“I’m just so speechless at this point,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said in her opening remarks during Sunday’s postgame press conference. “To see this team come back from yet another huge deficit, to see Arike make an incredible shot, to see the resilience of a team that never gave up. We lost our composure a little bit, but we got it back and we just kept fighting.”

 

Ogunbowale will be forever etched into women’s basketball lore. The junior guard made two game-winning shots in less than 48 hours in the Final Four. That’s special.

 

That basket was the perfect match to her game-winning baseline jumper against UConn in Friday’s national semifinals that punctuated a memorable evening of basketball that featured two overtime games. 

 

Charlotte Smith’s game-winning 3-pointer in the 1994 title to beat Louisiana Tech will always remain the gold standard of epic buzzer beaters in the women’s tournament because if she misses the Tar Heels lose.

 

The Irish had appeared in four title games in the last seven years and had lost all of them. 


It didn’t matter that in three of the four games they lost to undefeated teams Baylor (2012) and UConn (2014 and 2015). Notre Dame always returned more determined, hungrier and stronger. 

 

However, after losing four players to torn anterior cruciate ligament tears within the last year, this was the one season when winning a national title seemed improbable. This was the year few people outside of South Bend expected Notre Dame – its No. 1 seeding notwithstanding --  to win a national championship.

 

Chances are that mistake won’t ever be made again. 

 

McGraw and her staff did a yeoman’s job of keeping the Fighting Irish focused and believing they would be the last team standing even if undefeated Connecticut and once-beaten Mississippi State were the final hurdles in the way. They absorbed a 14-0 UConn punch and survived a three-point second quarter against Mississippi State.

 

Those excruciating experiences will forever be humorous memories for Notre Dame.

 

The Fighting Irish earned this title the old fashioned way. 

 

Notre Dame showcased toughness, togetherness, tenacity, character and confidence in the face of endless adversity. 

 

Against Mississippi State and Connecticut, Notre Dame was outsized but not outplayed, out-muscled but not outhustled, down double digits in the second half but never really out. 

 

Notre Dame trailed at halftime in four consecutive NCAA tournament games. Didn’t matter. The Fighting Irish overcame gruesome second quarters against UConn and Mississippi State in which they were outscored 40-13, shot a combined 6-for-25 and had 14 turnovers. Didn’t matter.

 

Ogunbowale struggled shooting in the first half, connecting on 1 of 10 shot attempts. Didn’t matter. Mississippi State’s Roshaunda Johnson nailed a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock expired that extended the Bulldogs lead to 58-53 with less than two minutes remaining. That shot would’ve finished most teams.

 

Instead, the Fighting Irish rallied and put themselves in position to enjoy a fantastic finish. 

 

Meanwhile, Mississippi State has nothing to be ashamed of. The Bulldogs will not be defined by the final seconds of this classic contest. The Bulldogs were valiant, showcased so much heart and grit throughout their special season. 

 

It’s tough to lose in a championship game two consecutive years, but just think how far Mississippi State has traveled in four years under its special senior class of Johnson, Victoria Vivians, Morgan William, and Blair Schaefer.


 It may take some time, but when the hurt subsides, they can fully appreciate the amazing journey they enjoyed.

 

“These four seniors are so special,” Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer said. “They have done so much for me personally and professionally. This is a high-character classy group of seniors. The integrity of this group is something I haven't seen. 

 

“For the seniors, they will always be a special group for the grit, determination and how they embrace the grind of life, as well as the grind of basketball. It hurts. They played their hearts out. Notre Dame made one more play.”

 

In winning 126 games (the most by a class in program history), an SEC regular season title, a single-season school record 37 victories, competing in four straight NCAA tournaments and consecutive championship games, the Bulldog senior class raised the bar of excellence and developed into an elite program while representing like champions and displaying plenty of class.

 

Mississippi State and Notre Dame provided the perfect ending to an unforgettable weekend of women’s basketball. 


Longtime observers consider this the greatest Final Four in the history of the women’s basketball tournament. 


Thanks to social media, it’s definitely the most discussed one in history.

 

There were legendary performances, shining moments, and comebacks. The 15 point combined margin of victory in the 2018 Women’s Final Four (three games) is the fewest in tournament history. These were three heavyweight fights between proud programs that excited fans, disrupted cardiovascular systems and left them breathless.

 

Leave it to Schaefer to provide the final words as he exited the dais following his postgame press conference.

 

“I just want you to know how much I appreciate you being here, covering these ladies, covering our four universities. What you do means a lot to our game, and I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate it as a coach that’s been doing this a long time, I just want to say thank you.”

 

No coach, we should be thanking everybody for an amazing weekend of basketball by a group of phenomenal women that will never be duplicated. 

 

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