TAMPA, Florida. – Baylor lost a star player, then the rest of his 17-point lead. But the Bears, led by 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 defending national champions, that team is so good, so talented, you're going to see those guys play at the next level.
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. "She has us here, we had to finish the job for her."
The Bears (37-1) won their first championship in seven years. Mulkey and Baylor have won titles in 2005, 2012 and 2019. The 2012 championship game also pitted the Bears against the Muffet McGraw Irish at the last meeting of two coaches for the title.
The Bears were prepared to run away 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.
Ogunbowale was instrumental in all those victories, becoming forever part of the history of the Final Four during last year's title race. He made a shot with 1 second remaining to beat UConn in the semifinals, then hit a tie-break triple with 0.1 seconds left 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 to trigger a Notre Dame run 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. "
He helped the Irish to have the 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.
"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."