CHICAGO – It’s not quite an annual tradition, but it’s getting close to that for one of the best women’s basketball programs in the country.
At the end of their fourth NCAA Tournament game of this year on Monday night, Muffet McGraw’s team once again got a trophy and cut down the nets. This time it was at Wintrust Arena as they clinched another berth in the Final Four this weekend in Tampa.
It wasn’t easy for Notre Dame to earn this celebration. They needed a strong second half to finally get past second-seeded Stanford 84-68, whom they trailed by seven at halftime. Yet they found another gear, scoring 58 points in the second half to win the game and the Chicago regional.
— Notre Dame WBB (@ndwbb) April 2, 2019
“That was unbelievable,” said McGraw of the comeback for the defending national champions. “First half, could not make a shot. I thought we looked just completely out of sorts, very unlike what we normally look like. I think credit Stanford’s defense. They were hitting the boards hard.
“They were packing it in. We couldn’t get anything going. And then second half we looked like ourselves again.”
Indeed they did, and they’ve kept a nearly yearly tradition going in a decade to remember for the program.
This marks the seventh time since 2011 that the Irish have made it to the Final Four and the third consecutive season they’ve made it to the National Semifinal. The 2016 team reached the Sweet 16 and the 2017 team lost in the Elite Eight.
Of those runs, Notre Dame has made it to five national championship games, finally breaking through for their second championship in program history in 2018. All of this has been a part of the Irish’s 24-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, with the last ten ending no earlier than the Sweet 16.
It’s a run of excellence that has put the program among the elite in the country, and they’ll face another in that group on Friday when they face UConn at Amalie Arena. The match-up brings back great memories for the fans and especially senior Arike Ogunbowale, who hit the game-winning shot against the Huskies in last year’s National Semifinals.
She repeated the feat against Mississippi State in the national championship game to bring Notre Dame their first title since 2001. It’s the hope to repeat those efforts that had Ogunbowale focused on the next step after the one her team took on Monday, thanks in big part to her 21 points
“I guess it really feels the same,” said Ogunbowale when asked how this Elite Eight win felt compared to last season. “We got there the first time, at least in our careers, and to get back there again, it really feels the same, but it’s a long way to go.
“We know we’re not done yet, so we’re celebrating now, but we’ve got to get back to work.”