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ND Women’s Basketball

Geyer: Arike is not responsible

| Monday, April 8, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s too much. Asking a 22-year-old to win a national championship two years in a row is too much. Is Arike Ogunbowale inherently and irrefutably capable of doing it? Yes. Should she be expected to? Not in any universe. Despite her standing as the most elite scorer in program history, and the most elite scorer on her team, she’s more than that — she’s a college kid, a born-and-bred athlete who stays with it for the love of the game.

Last year she had ice in her veins — we saw she could do it under pressure not once, but twice. It was on full display against UConn in the semis, and she cemented the fact that that overtime make wasn’t a fluke when she nailed the shot again against Mississippi State in the finals. This year, with a pair of free throws, a two-point deficit and 1.9 seconds on the clock, she missed it when she tried to make it and made it when she tried to miss it. For whatever cosmic reason, the ball didn’t roll in despite the senior guard’s standing as a clutch, 80.6% free-throw shooter, the best from the line on her team.

But the fact that the ball didn’t fall is irrelevant — the bottom line is, it shouldn’t have mattered. And Arike cannot be blamed for what happened during the final 1.9 seconds of a 40-minute game.

“It doesn’t come down to the free throw,” graduate student forward Brianna Turner said. “I missed the block the previous play. I mean, we were down a dozen at halftime. … It didn’t come down to a free throw. It was much more than that.”

Head coach Muffet McGraw echoed Turner.

“The game didn’t come down to that free throw,” McGraw said. “I mean, the game was 40 minutes. There were plenty of mistakes we made throughout the game that caused us to lose.”

But even though the people with the most intimate knowledge of the game know that Arike wasn’t to blame, that’s not going to stop sports fans around the country from pointing a finger at the senior. But that’s not fair.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish senior guard Arike Ogunbowale walks off in disbelief following the final buzzer of Notre Dame’s 82-81 loss to Baylor in Sunday night’s national championship game in Tampa, Florida.

Arike should look back on her years in an Irish uniform with nothing but pride and joy. The pain of the loss is inevitable, but her legacy should not be tarnished by a single free throw, especially considering she’s someone who took 649 of them in her career — and made 500 of them for an unprecedented four-year average of 77%.

In some ways, its parallel to LeBron James. The man is saluted as one of the best to ever play, but it’s no secret that he’s abysmal from the foul line — especially in clutch situations. But he pours in points, dishes out assists and yanks it down from the boards every game, giving his team a fair shot at winning, even if they aren’t performing well. The same can be said for Arike.

Notre Dame (35-4, 14-2 ACC) had plenty of opportunity to make it happen throughout the game, and they certainly had plenty of opportunity to make it happen at the end. The bottom line is they would have had their hands full regardless in the national championship game if they had played their best basketball, and against Baylor they were not at their best.

In the first quarter the Irish shot just 20.8% from the field, hitting just five of their 24 field-goal attempts. On the other side of the court, Baylor (37-1, 18-0 Big 12) couldn’t miss, nailing 66.7% of their looks on 12-for-18 shooting. The Bears were lights out in the post, unbeatable on the perimeter and the Irish didn’t have much of an answer. The trend continued for the rest of the game. Although Notre Dame was able to find some momentum in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t enough to pull away, despite their best efforts. We all watched it go down.

A single bad shot does not define a player, a single bad quarter does not define a team, a single bad game does not define a season.

But maybe Notre Dame, and especially Arike, should not be blamed for losing. Maybe Baylor should just be credited for winning. Regardless, at the end of the day, it’s only fair for us to adopt the attitude that Arike has about the miss:

“That doesn’t define me.”

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