Baylor retains Notre Dame 82-81 for women's title



TAMPA, Florida (AP). Baylor lost a star player, then the rest of his 17-point lead. But the Lady Bears, led by the ever-balanced Chloe Jackson, kept their composure.

Jackson drove for a tiebreaker with 3.9 seconds remaining, and that put the game in the hands of another tournament hero.

Arike Ogunbowale of Notre Dame missed the first of two free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining, and Baylor remained in the 82-81 victory on Sunday in the NCAA women's basketball championship game.

"They just kept doing what they taught us to do, and that's guards," said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. "We just beat the current national champions, that team is so good, so talented, you're going to see those players play at the next level, Wow."

Baylor could achieve victory without star forward Lauren Cox, who injured his knee in a terrifying scene at the end of the third quarter. The Irish were able to recover from a deficit of 14 points in the third quarter to draw at 78 in the fourth. Jackson then scored a shot from the foul line, and Jessica Shepard responded with two free throws to tie, setting the exciting final.

"We had to do it by LC," said Jackson, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. "He got us here, we had to finish the job for her."

The Lady Bears (37-1) won its first championship in seven years. Mulkey and Baylor have won titles in 2005, 2012 and 2019. The 2012 championship game also pitted Lady Bears against Muffet McGraw's Irish in the last meeting of two coaches for the title.

The Lady Bears were ready to flee with the game while Notre Dame struggled to score. But the Irish have a gift for the big comebacks, doing it against UConn in this year's semi-final and against Mississippi State in the starting game last season, when they recovered from 15 in the third quarter.

Baylor players celebrate after defeating Notre Dame in the Final Four championship game of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. Baylor won 82-21. (Photo: Chris O & # 39; Meara, AP)

Ogunbowale was instrumental in all those victories, becoming forever part of the Final Four during last year's title race. He made a shot with a second remaining to beat UConn in the semifinals, then hit a tie breaker with a tenth of a second remaining to beat the Bulldogs in the title game.

Ogunbowale led the charge again on Sunday, scoring 17 of his 31 points in the second half. That included a beating 3 at the end of the third quarter, which caused a Notre Dame race of 11-0.

"It just was not meant to be, it's going to be a hard pill to swallow," Ogunbowale said. "But things happen, I had a fun and great race here at Notre Dame."

The Irish helped the Lady Bears play the last 11 minutes without Cox. He became entangled with Kalani Brown on the defensive side and went to grab his left knee with one minute to the third quarter. The 6-foot-4-foot young man was crying in pain before being pulled off the floor in a wheelchair. His mother was breaking in the stands, and his father had his hands on his face.

"I'm excited for many reasons, but mainly for Lauren Cox, and I'm very happy," Mulkey said. "These are tears of joy, but they are also tears of thinking about injuries.

"The worst part of the game was Lauren Cox," he added. "We had control of that game from the beginning until the moment she left the floor, we had to regroup, for us winning was a miracle in itself when you lose a player of that caliber."

Cox returned to the bench in the fourth quarter with crutches, with a large reinforcement in his left knee. She was the first to win the trophy after the game.

"I'm one of the team leaders, so just to have my voice there (in the bank) and tell them I'm still fine, they told me they were going to do this for me," Cox said.

Mulkey was able to celebrate his third title with his family nearby. The daughter Makenzie is in the coaching staff and the grandson Kannon Reid was sitting in the front row behind the bench. As the second final pbaded, he embraced his daughter and the rest of the staff in the middle of the court.

Baylor forward Lauren Cox screams while holding her left knee during the second half against Notre Dame in the NCAA Women's College Basketball Tournament Final Four game on Sunday, April 7, 2019 in Tampa, Florida ( Photo: John Raoux, AP)

With the game tied at 80, Jackson drove with his right hand and hit a tray that bounced off the edge before falling.

Sunday's game marked the eighth time in the last 20 years that there have been two head coaches in the title game, but only the second time since 2008. The last time was in 2012 with these same coaches. As of 2018, only 59.5 percent of the coaches in women's basketball in Division I are women.

The victory broke the tie for the third place of all time between Mulkey and McGraw for NCAA career titles. Mulkey has three, placing her behind Geno Auriemma (11) and Pat Summitt (8).

TIP-INS

The Irish were left with 999 victories in school history. McGraw has been the coach of 835 of them. … The differential of 11 points for the three games in the Final Four was the closest in the history of the tournament, surpbading the margin of 15 points last season.

STRONG ASSISTANCE

Nearly 275,000 people attended the NCAA, which ranked eighth of all time, including 20,127 for the title game. It was the highest attendance in more than 15 years.

"We had a great championship, our first and second round numbers are the best we've seen in 11 years," said NCAA basketball vice president Lynn Holzman.

The regionals gave a strong boost. Portland, Oregon, a site for the first time, averaged more than 11,400 fans and will host next year. Regional attendance was the highest since the NCAA switched to neutral sites after the 2014 season.

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Follow Doug Feinberg on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

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