Chloe Jackson made a driving layup to break an 80-80 tie with 3.9 seconds remaining as Baylor recovered from blowing a 17-point first-half lead to defeat Notre Dame 82-81 in the NCAA women's basketball championship game Sunday night in Tampa.
Jackson, who finished with 26 points on 13-of-25 shooting and was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, knocked down a midrange jump shot to give the Bears a 80-78 lead with 35 seconds remaining before Notre Dame's Jessica Shepard tied the game by hitting a pair of free throws with 17 seconds to go. After Jackson put Baylor back up by two, Arike Ogunbowale had a chance to send the game into overtime but missed the first of two foul shots with 1.9 seconds remaining.
Ogunbowale, who led all scorers with 31 points and was the Most Outstanding Player of last year's Final Four, unintentionally made the second foul shot and Baylor was able to run out the clock.
Baylor's win gave the program its third national championship under head coach Kim Mulkey after prior titles in 2005 and 2012. The Bears join Connecticut (11) and Tennessee (8) as the only schools to win at least three NCAA women's basketball championships while denying Notre Dame a second straight title and third overall under their bench boss, Muffett McGraw.
For most of the first three quarters, the game appeared to be heading toward a routine Baylor win as Kalani Brown (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Lauren Cox (8 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) dominated the Fighting Irish on the interior and the Bears raced out to a 33-16 lead. Baylor led by 12 at halftime, 43-31, on the strength of a whopping 30 points in the paint.
Notre Dame got within seven points in the third quarter, but Baylor appeared to have righted the ship and had pulled ahead 62-48 when Cox collided with Brown during a defensive possession and collapsed to the ground with an apparent left knee injury. Replays showed the junior forward's left knee appeared to buckle and she was taken off the court in a wheelchair in tears.
"If Lauren Cox didn't get up, it's very severe," Mulkey told ESPN during an in-game interview. "I could cry for her right now, but I have to go to work." Cox emerged from the Baylor locker room walking on crutches and wearing a knee brace midway through the fourth quarter and set on the end of Baylor's bench for the remainder of the game. She was the first one to hold the trophy after the game.
"I'm one of the leaders on the team, so just to have my voice there (on the bench) and tell them I'm still OK, they told me they were going to do this for me," Cox said.
"We had to do it for LC," Jackson said after the game. "She got us here. We had to finish the job for her."
Notre Dame did all the work in the early stages of the fourth quarter, outscoring Baylor 19-8 over the first five minutes and tying the score at 74-74 on a three-pointer by Marina Mabrey (21 points, including four treys). Time and again, the Bears were rescued by freshman NaLyssa Smith, who hit her first seven shots from the field before fouling out late in the game with 14 points off the bench. Her last bucket made the score 76-74, Baylor with 4:47 to go.
Notre Dame came back and took the lead, 77-76, on a jump shot and a foul shot by Ogunbowale with 3:18 to go. Jackson assisted Brown on a jumper to give Baylor the lead back with 2:34 to go and the teams traded increasingly frantic possessions until Shepard made one of two free throws to tie the game at 78 and set up Jackson's heroics at the other end.