Bears lose key player, lead — but not title

TAMPA, Fla. — Baylor lost a key player, then the rest of its 17-point lead. But the Lady Bears, led by the ever-poised Chloe Jackson, kept their composure.

Jackson drove for a tie-breaking layup with 3.9 seconds left, and that put the game into the hands of another tournament hero.

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale missed the first of two free-throw tries with 1.9 seconds remaining, and Baylor pulled out an 82-81 victory Sunday in the NCAA women’s basketball championship game.

“They just kept doing what we’ve been taught to do, and that’s guard people,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “We just beat the defending national champions. That team is so good, so talented. You’re going to see those guys play at the next level. Wow.”

Baylor was able to pull off the win without forward Lauren Cox, who injured her knee in a frightening scene late in the third quarter. The Irish were able to rally from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter to tie it 78-78 in the fourth. Jackson then scored a jumper from the foul line, and Jessica Shepard countered with two free throws to tie it, setting up the exciting finish.

“We had to do it for LC,” said Jackson, who was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. “She got us here. We had to finish the job for her.”

The Lady Bears (37-1) won their first title in seven years. Mulkey and Baylor also won titles in 2005 and ’12.

The Lady Bears were primed to run away with the game as Notre Dame struggled to score. However, the Irish have a knack for big comebacks, doing it against UConn in this year’s semifinal and against Mississippi State in last season’s title game, when they rallied from 15 down in the third quarter.

Ogunbowale led the charge Sunday, scoring 17 of her 31 points in the second half. That included a buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the third quarter, sparking an 11-0 Notre Dame run.

“It just wasn’t meant to be. It’s going to be a hard pill to swallow,” said Ogunbowale, who finished with 155 points in the tournament — fourth most all-time. “But things happen. I had a fun, great career here at Notre Dame.”

Doug Feinberg is an Associated Press writer.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/collegesports/article/Bears-lose-key-player-lead-but-not-title-13749160.php.

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