Ogunbowale lofted a high, arcing jumper over Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians. It was off-balance, a leaner, but again the shot was perfect, this time with a tenth of a second remaining. It completed a championship run for Notre Dame that once seemed unlikely only to become stunningly unstoppable, culminating with a trophy presentation at Nationwide Arena.
Notre Dame (35-3) shot only 22 for 52 over all and 2 for 9 from 3-point range, and was held to 30 points below its scoring average in the tournament. But Ogunbowale, who scored 18 points, hit the most important and decisive shot of her career.
It capped the biggest comeback in the final since the women’s N.C.A.A. tournament began in 1982. The Irish prevailed despite scoring only 3 points in the second quarter and trailing 40-25 in the third.
“We just kept fighting, and thank you, Jesus, on Easter Sunday,” Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said.
The 6-foot-4 forward Jessica Shepard led Notre Dame with 19 points, hitting 8 of 10 shots. When the Irish’s perimeter shooting went awry, she essentially put her head down and drove determinedly past McCowan from the high post.
“We had a little mismatch” in quickness, Shepard said.
With McCowan disqualified because of fouls, Notre Dame’s strategy on the final play was to get the ball inside to Shepard. But guard Jackie Young, who inbounded the ball, did not like the setup and feared a turnover.
So she waited until Ogunbowale ran toward her before releasing the ball. In the first half, Ogunbowale had shot only 1 for 10. But she drove tenaciously to the basket in the second half.
And when Ogunbowale put up the final shot, falling toward the baseline, Young said, “I knew it was going in.”
McGraw was not so sure.
“It was a kind of a desperation shot,” McGraw said. “With only three seconds, she had a great idea of the clock going in her head, got it off just in time. She was our second option, but I knew that she would get a shot off.
“When it went through, I couldn’t honestly believe that it went in.”
It was an appropriate ending to an enthralling Final Four, with both semifinals extending into overtime and the final not being decided until the final tenth of a second.
“Phenomenal for women’s basketball,” McGraw said.
Mississippi State (37-2), though, felt the sting of losing in the national championship game for a second consecutive year. This will be a particularly difficult defeat to accept, with a huge and seemingly unassailable lead evaporating down the stretch.
Vivians finished with 21 points and McCowan collected 18 points and 17 rebounds, but that will provide no consolation, only empty statistics. The only relevant number will be this: The Bulldogs led by 5 points, 58-53, with 1 minute 57 seconds remaining but could not hold on.
To that point, Notre Dame had not hit a 3-pointer. But Mabrey delivered a shot from beyond the arc with 1:36 left, then Young nailed a turnaround jumper to tie the score and put her team in a position to win.
With a stirring display of resilience this season, the Irish overcame a dispiriting series of knee injuries and persevered until the team hoisted the championship trophy.
Absent four players who had tears in their anterior cruciate ligaments, Notre Dame remained insistent and aspirational with deft shooting, voracious offensive rebounding and exquisite interior passing.
This was the first title for Notre Dame since 2001, ending a frustrating series of defeats in the championship game: against Texas A&M in 2011, Baylor in 2012 and Connecticut in 2014 and 2015.
“We actually didn’t really talk about it at all,” McGraw said of the mounting injuries. “We just constantly focus on what we have, what can we do, who’s going to step up, how are the roles changing?”
But so many players sustained so many different injuries, that Bob Nagle, a radio voice of Notre Dame sports for decades, joked, “We had four A.C.L.s, a broken nose, a black eye, three ankle sprains and a broadcaster with an ingrown toenail. If you weren’t injured, you couldn’t ride on the team bus.”
On Sunday, the Irish jumped to a quick 10-4 lead but trailed by 30-17 at halftime after scoring only 3 points in the second quarter. The deficit ballooned to 40-25 in the third quarter, but, early in the fourth, Shepard hit a shot inside over McCowan to put the Irish up by 43-41. The finish would become an engrossing mystery until Ogunbowale hit the winning shot.
“Congratulations to Notre Dame,” Vic Schaefer, the Mississippi State coach, said. Just as on Friday, he said, he had seen in the Irish on Sunday “tremendous passion, a relentlessness, a toughness and a resiliency to that bunch. They’re to be commended for that.”