Former Husker Jessica Shepard, Notre Dame advance to second straight championship game

Notre Dame forward Jessica Shepard had a double-double in the win. 

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Arike Ogunbowale scored 23 points and led Notre Dame’s rally from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter as the defending champion Irish beat Connecticut 81-76 Friday night to return to the title game.

The Irish will face Baylor for the crown Sunday night, trying to become the fourth school to win consecutive championships — UConn, Tennessee and Southern California have done it. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw danced a little jig at midcourt after this comeback victory.

Former Husker Jessica Shepard scored 20 points for the Irish, hitting 10 of 19 shots. She added 13 rebounds and seven assists.

Baylor beat Oregon 72-67 in the first semifinal, setting up a rematch of the 2012 national championship game the Lady Bears won 80-61.

This game between the Huskies and the Irish was a rematch of last season’s Final Four classic that Notre Dame won on a last-second shot by Ogunbowale. This one — the latest chapter in the greatest rivalry in women’s basketball over the past decade — provided a fitting encore.

Notre Dame (35-3) trailed 64-55 early in the fourth quarter before scoring 13 of the next 15 to take a 68-66 lead on Ogunbowale’s short jumper with 3:56 left. The teams then traded the lead five times over the next few minutes, with Shepard hitting a jumper from the foul line with 1:27 left to put the Irish ahead 75-74.

Katie Lou Samuelson scored 20 points for coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies (35-3).

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