Welcome to our Decade of Basketball series, reminiscing about the greatest moments in the sport in the 2010s. Through video, we will relive the times from the last 10 years that bring goosebumps to the arms of those who witnessed them. Let’s celebrate the last decade of basketball and look forward to the next one we’re about to experience.
2018 NCAA Women’s Final Four
Four No. 1 seeds, all in the Final Four, all with a different drive behind them. Connecticut, the final-weekend mainstay, was seeking its fifth title in six years. After already five losses in the Final Four and championship game in the decade, Notre Dame was aiming to finally not be the bridesmaid. It was Louisville’s third-ever trip to the national semifinals and the program was still in search of its first championship. For Mississippi State, it was looking to avenge a loss in the most-recent title game – it’s first Final Four run – to win its inaugural national crown.
On March 30, 2018, the four teams converged in Columbus, Ohio, and played one of the greatest Final Four weekends of all time.
First, Mississippi State and Louisville took the floor at Nationwide Arena. It took until early in the fourth quarter for either team to build at least a seven-point lead, with Louisville slightly pulling ahead. But Mississippi State would respond right back, and the final minutes of regulation were played at a razor thin margin. A technical foul on Louisville center Sam Fuehring with 2:42 to play for slapping the floor after a call made against her had a major impact on the game, fouling her out and giving the Bulldogs a 56-53 advantage after the free throws. The Cardinals would make it up, though, with a couple of stops and scores in back-to-back possessions, even extending their lead to three off a Myisha Hines-Allen layup with 11.3 ticks remaining. But Mississippi State guard Roshunda Johnson popped out from a high-post screen, received a pass on the wing and drilled a triple with 5.7 seconds to go to tie the game at 56.
Louisville would get two quality looks at the buzzer as Hines-Allen went coast-to-coast but missed a contested layup, then Jazmine Jones’s tip effort bounced off the rim and out. It turned out that was the team’s best shot at winning as the Bulldogs dominated the extra period, holding Louisville to 1-of-10 shooting in overtime en route to a 73-63 victory.
“We know we’re an overtime team,” Bulldogs guard Victoria Vivians said after the game.
The excitement of the first game gave the second showdown of the night – a classic rivalry matchup between Connecticut and Notre Dame – some big shoes to fill. As it turned out, the final half of the doubleheader delivered even greater.
After the end of the first quarter, Notre Dame led 24-14. By halftime, it was 41-34 in favor of UConn. The second half was more even, with both teams trading blows through the third. Connecticut opened a multi-possession margin in the early stages of the fourth, but that was gone by the three-minute mark. It was back-and-forth from there until the Irish built a five-point lead, 79-74, with 21 seconds to go after Arike Ogunbowale made two at the charity stripe. But six seconds later, Connecticut forward Napheesa Collier hit a three pointer to pull within two, and guard Kia Nurse stole the ball from Notre Dame forward Jessica Shepard moments later, immediately exchanging the turnover into points. With 10 ticks remaining, the game was knotted at 79.
Shepard would turn the ball over again, and it would give Connecticut a shot at the horn to win the game. But forward Gabby Williams couldn’t convert on her jumper, and overtime was required. The bonus five minutes would again be nerve-racking for the emotionally invested, and a triple from Connecticut guard Crystal Dangerfield with 29 seconds remaining tied it up at 89. But then, Ogunbowale completed part one of what would be the most clutch performance in Final Four history: she pulled up for a deep jumper and splashed it with only 1 seconds left, toppling the mighty Huskies and sending the Irish to the national championship in one of the best games of the last decade of basketball.
“I know I just had to shoot it at the last minute,” Ogunbowale told press after the game. “I didn’t want to give them a chance to get the ball. I went into Mamba mentality. Kobe’s here, so that’s what I tried to channel.”
After an unforgettable Final Four, the national championship game couldn’t have possibly lived up to them, right? Wrong. In fact, it might have been even better and one of the best games in the decade of basketball.
Notre Dame had control for most of the first, though Mississippi State closed the game before the end of the quarter. Then in the second, it was all Bulldogs as they led 30-17 by the break. It would take until well into the third for the Irish to mount their comeback, but once they did, it was game on.
From when Notre Dame tied the game at 41 with 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter until the end of the game, there were six lead changes and five ties, with plenty of drama mixed in. The Bulldogs took a 58-53 advantage with 2:01 to play off of a Johnson three, but Notre Dame responded with a triple from guard Marina Mabrey on the next possession. After a big stop, Irish forward Jackie Young made a jumper to level the game at 58 with 46 seconds left. Missed layups, turnovers, steals and fouls defined the next 30 seconds until finally Notre Dame had the ball and called timeout with 3.0 ticks to go.
The ball was inbounded to Ogunbowale near the sideline, and she immediately cut toward the baseline after receiving the pass. Two dribbles later, she launched a well-defended, off-balance prayer for the win, and moments later she had won Notre Dame its first national championship since 2001.
“It just felt right,” Ogunbowale said. “I practice late-game all the time. I just ran to Jackie and said, ‘Throw it to me, throw it to me.'”
The 2018 NCAA Women’s Final Four was one of the best final weekends college basketball has ever seen. All three games were instant classics, and the event hosted one of the most clutch performances of the decade in any sport. It was a special few days for women’s hoops and basketball as a whole, and we remember it as one of the great times in this decade of basketball.