Coming off two epic Final Four games that felt like a grand finale in their own right, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Mississippi State Bulldogs have to regroup in a hurry.
The turnaround is quick. Two days after both teams needed overtime to advance to the NCAA Women’s Tournament championship game — the Irish via a last-second 72-69 victory over mighty Connecticut, the Bulldogs taking it to Louisville in extra time 73-63 — the two No. 1 seeds meet Sunday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
“(Friday) night was great for our game,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “And you had two outstanding games played by four outstanding teams. As somebody that’s done this a long time, (I’m) just proud to be a part of this industry and this game.”
If anyone is well-versed in this kind of frenzied pace, it’s Schaefer.
Last year, Mississippi State came out flat in a 12-point title game loss to South Carolina, two days after Morgan William hit a game-winning jumper in overtime to stun UConn in the 2017 Final Four.
Mississippi State’s win over Louisville on Friday did not have that kind of flair for the dramatic as Victoria Vivians had 25 points, Teaira McCowan collected 21 points and an astounding 25 rebounds, and William added 10 points. Vivians scored five points, including an early 3-pointer, in overtime to help the Bulldogs pull away.
“The only thing worse than playing Connecticut is playing the team that beat them,” Schaefer said. “But hopefully, like I told our kids, what we’re going to do today — I thought last year we got beat because we looked tired the second day.
“Now, whether that was from emotional distress, from, you know, just coming off the high, or if we were just physically exhausted, which I don’t think it is, whatever the case, I can control that today. And I’m going to control that by what we do in practice. That’s something that I will control.”
Notre Dame (34-3) comes into the matchup in the same state of mind as Mississippi State (37-1) of a year ago as Arike Ogunbowale played the heroine after hitting a long crossover, step-back jumper with less than two seconds on the clock in a 91-89 overtime victory over UConn.
Ogunbowale had 27 points and Jackie Young scored 32 on 10-of-15 shooting with 11 rebounds. Jessica Shepard added 15 points and 11 boards.
“Jackie Young, I don’t know what to say about her,” Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw said after the game. “I knew she had it in her, and to get a career high in the national semifinal against Connecticut, I don’t think you can ask for a better performance than what she gave tonight.
“Big shot by Arike, unbelievable. She does it all the time in practice, so we weren’t that surprised. Definitely an exciting big shot. And Jess was awesome the entire game.”
Notre Dame, which has reached the title game in five of the past eight seasons, is looking for its first title since 2001.
Mississippi State is seeking its first title in program history.