Sunday marked the fifth consecutive Final Four appearance for No. 1 Notre Dame, but Muffet McGraw’s team has been unable to get over the hump and win the program’s second national title. The Fighting Irish are looking to end that streak this weekend in Tampa, and despite having issues on the defensive glass and with foul trouble they’re one game from accomplishing that goal.
Madison Cable’s short jumper after rebounding a missed shot with 13.9 seconds remaining gave Notre Dame a 66-65 lead, and they protected it with some excellent defense on South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell on the other end of the floor. Notre Dame will play either No. 1 UConn or No. 1 Maryland Tuesday night for the program’s first national title since 2000, and they have multiple players to thank for it.
Jewell Loyd, an All-American who was also named ACC Player of the Year, led the way with 22 points but just as important were the contributions of forwards Brianna Turner and Taya Reimer.
Turner, one of the nation’s best freshmen, tallied 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks before fouling out late in the second half, and Reimer added 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocks. In spite of Notre Dame’s issues taking care of their defensive glass, as South Carolina rebounded 37.2 percent of its missed shots and also scored 48 points in the paint, the play of Turner and Reimer helped Notre Dame build double-digit margins in both halves.
Their play helped Notre Dame advance despite seeing their point guard Lindsay Allen struggle with foul trouble and go scoreless before fouling out, and the Irish needed every contribution as the Gamecocks fought their way back into the game and took a slim lead into the final minute.
Mitchell, an All-American and SEC Player of the Year, scored 11 points on 5-for-11 shooting but freshman A’ja Wilson stepped forward with 20 points and nine rebounds and Aleighsa Welch added ten points and 14 rebounds for a team making its first-ever Final Four appearance. But needing one basket to extend their stay in Tampa, South Carolina couldn’t find a quality look as Mitchell’s final shot missing the mark.
Hannah Huffman was given the assignment of guarding Mitchell on that final defensive sequence, and she combined with Loyd to make the South Carolina guard’s final shot an incredibly difficult one. Notre Dame will need more from their starting point guard if they’re to beat either UConn or Maryland Tuesday night. But thanks to contributions from her teammates, the Fighting Irish will get the opportunity.