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ND Women’s Basketball

Arike Ogunbowale’s confidence proves to be the difference maker

| Monday, April 2, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As Arike Ogunbowale climbed the ladder to cut down the net at Nationwide Arena, she stopped and looked around confused for a few seconds, miming a pair of scissors to show that she couldn’t find them.

They were right at the top of the ladder, the same spot every other player on the Irish (35-3, 15-1 ACC) had left them after cutting off their own piece.

The junior guard realized that soon enough and got to cut down her own piece of the net. The piece she had secured with two game-winning shots in less than 48 hours. Because with the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, what she does along the way is never the important part.

Zachary Yim | The Observer
Irish junior guard Arike Ogunbowale drives towards the basket and attempts a layup during Notre Dame’s 61-58 win over Mississippi State in Sunday’s NCAA national championship game at Nationwide Arena.

What is important is that she always gets it done in the end.

She did it against UConn on Friday with a shot that would have been the highlight of most player’s careers.

It wasn’t even the highlight of Ogunbowale’s weekend.

With three seconds left, sophomore guard Jackie Young inbounded the ball to Ogunbowale. The play wasn’t designed for her, but she hardly had any problem with getting the chance to hit another game-winner.

“Initially, we were looking for [junior forward Jessica Shepard], but, I mean, whenever I was looking at it, I didn’t like the way it looked,” Young said. “I knew if I threw it, it would have possibly been a turnover. So I talked to Arike before and I was like, ‘If the matchup doesn’t look right or if Jess isn’t in the position that we’re looking for, then come back to the ball.’ And I just made sure that Arike was literally coming to the ball before I passed it to her.”

Ogunbowale took it to the corner, almost the same spot where she hit Friday’s winner, just at the opposite end of the court. And, while a little off balance, she released.

“When I saw it travel a little bit, I thought it felt good,” Ogunbowale said. “I was kind of falling to the baseline, but I think when I shot it, I was kind of at a good angle to the basket. Once I got it off, I started falling.”

“We had confidence in her,” Young said. “As soon as she put the shot up, I knew it was going in.”

“She’s a gym rat,” associate head coach Carol Owens said of Ogunbowale. “She’s always in the gym working on her shot, and to see it pay off with two huge, back-to-back shots in the Final Four is just amazing. It’s unbelievable.”

That confidence was not misplaced. And it’s the kind of attitude from her teammates that Ogunbowale said allowed her to make big shots after missing early ones. Ogunbowale’s 15-for-42 shooting mark in the Final Four and 51-for-123 mark for the tournament are not the norms for the Most Outstanding Player. But when it mattered most to her team, Ogunbowale always seemed to come up with something.

“It’s just my teammates,” Ogunbowale said. “They’re talking to me all the time. No matter if I’m 1-for-20 or whatever, they’re like, ‘Keep going to the basket. We need you.’ So I think they give me the confidence to keep going.”

The similarities between the two game-winning shots are hard to miss. Not only did Ogunbowale finish with the ultimate statement after starting both games slowly — shooting a combined 3-for-18 in first halves in Columbus — but they were both shots from similar spots on the court to turn a tie game into an Irish win. Yet, Ogunbowale said she wasn’t thinking of the shot against Connecticut at all.

“I definitely wasn’t thinking about the other shot,” Ogunbowale said. “We had to just not think about that game. I was just thinking of making this one.”

Because Ogunbowale never thinks about the last shot, make or miss. But plenty of people — no doubt including her hero, Kobe Bryant — will be thinking about two of the most memorable shots in tournament history for a long time.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Contact Daniel