The Baylor Lady Bears beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 82-81 to win their third national championship. This was hardly unexpected as Baylor came into the game as the No. 1 overall seed and with a 36-1 record. Their lone loss of the season came on the road at Stanford, one of the top teams in the country. They had also just beat Oregon and one of the absolute best players in the country in Sabrina Ionescu.
Baylor faced tough competition against a Notre Dame team that returned plenty of experienced players from a national championship run of their own. None of those players were as important as Arike Ogunbowale, especially after her final four heroics last year:
Baylor’s early lead
Baylor jumped out to an early lead behind strong performances from seniors Kalani Brown(a probable first round pick at center) and guard Chloe Jackson. They led by 11 at the end of the first quarter and by as much as 17 midway through the second. However, Notre Dame kept climbing back as Ogunbowale kept making shots. The third quarter was more of the same with Baylor mostly maintaining a double digit lead, until the game drastically changed right before the fourth.
Lauren Cox’s injury
The Lady Bears led by 12 with just a minute left in the third quarter when Cox suffered an injury to her knee that left her out for the rest game. Cox had been influential up to that point, especially on defense as she had 8 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals. According to ESPN, Baylor had a 95% chance to win when she left the game:
This is also a good time to point out that we really don’t need to see both an injured player and their parents for an extended period of time:
Notre Dame’s real comeback
As you can see from the graph, Cox’s injury drastically changed the game. Marina Mabrey led the charge for Notre Dame with 12 points and 3 assists just in the fourth quarter alone. Of course Ogunbowale was also influential with 17 of her 31 points coming in the second half. After a 27-14 run, the Irish finally took the lead with just three minutes remaining.
Chloe Jackson ends it
Jackson, a grad transfer from LSU that had never played point guard before this season, was ultimately the one to win the game. She finished as the team’s leading scorer with 26 points, as well as 5 assists. But her two most important scores of the game came in the final minute to put Baylor ahead. The first one with 30 seconds left:
And then again for what would be the game winner with only 6 seconds remaining:
After Ogunbowale missed a free throw on the other end, Baylor was able to hang on for the 82-81 win and secure their third national championship: