Notre Dame knocked out UConn again in what was a rematch of last season’s Final Four classic, as the defending champion Irish rallied from a nine-point, fourth quarter deficit to top the Huskies 81-76 Friday night in Tampa, Fla., to advance to their second straight title game.
Notre Dame (35-3) will defend the national title against Baylor in the championship Sunday night.
The Irish trailed 64-55 early in the fourth quarter before going on a hot streak, scoring 13 of the next 16 to take the lead 68-66.
The two teams went on to trade the lead five times over the next few minutes, delivering on what many consider to be the greatest rivalry in women’s basketball over the past decade. A jumper from Jessica Shepard put the Irish ahead 75-74 with 1:27 left on the clock.
Arike Ogunbowale hit two free throws to push their lead to three points with less than a minute to go. Ogunbowale, who put the Huskies down last year with a game-winning, last-second shot, hit another two free throws to make it a five-point game.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw danced a little jig at midcourt after the comeback victory.
UConn (35-3) has lost three straight years in the Final Four, a first for the team.
While the star matchup of Ogunbowale and Connecticut’s Katie Lou Samuelson was nonexistent in the first half, it boiled over in the second. Ogunbowale scored 23 points, 14 of those in the final quarter, while Samuelson scored 20 points — all in the second half.
With Baylor’s 72-67 win over Oregon in the first semifinal, the battle for the crown will be a rematch of the 2012 national championship game the Lady Bears won 80-61 over the Irish.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.