Notre Dame, Ogunbowale rally past No. 2 Louisville

Ogunbowale buries cold-blooded dagger 3 (0:41)

Arike Ogunbowale tees up a 3 from the right wing and finds the bottom of the net to put Notre Dame up 7 with less than a minute to go. (0:41)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Amid what has otherwise been the opportunity to live out a dream the past two seasons, Louisville has been an almost singular nightmare for Notre Dame.

So the Fighting Irish figured out how to make the most of the nightmare.

It wasn’t always artistic. It wasn’t ever particularly efficient, right down to letting a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter dwindle to just two points. It wasn’t a dream performance by any stretch.

But the result was ideal.

And No. 1 Notre Dame’s 82-68 win against No. 2 Louisville not only solidified the ranking, it killed off Notre Dame’s lone remaining bogeyman.

It was the kind of day when Arike Ogunbowale flirted with scoring in single digits for the first time in nearly a year. At least until she did what she does with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter and a clutch jumper in the final minute on her way to a game-high 30 points.

By the time she hit her final two free throws after an intentional foul in the closing seconds, she had outscored even Louisville’s Asia Durr, who finished with 29 points.

But more telling than those familiar heroics was that it was the kind of day when Ogunbowale brought the crowd to its feet with her passing first, lobbing layups to Turner in transition.

More telling was Jessica Shepard chasing miss after miss when things weren’t going well, grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds to help Notre Dame outrebound Louisville 48-32.

Each found some way to take control of the nightmare.

The Fighting Irish entered Thursday’s game with a 49-2 record against the rest of the country since the start of last season. But they were 0-2 against Louisville in that span, including a 33-point loss on the road almost exactly one year ago. The Fighting Irish also lost twice to UConn in that span, including earlier this season on the same court in South Bend, but they won the meeting that mattered most against their old rival in the Final Four a season ago.

Louisville, on the other hand, remained a puzzle unsolved.

And for stretches of the first half, it looked like it might remain that way. The nation’s third-most prolific offense and its second-most efficient field goal shooting team, the Fighting Irish had more turnovers (11) than field goals (8) in the opening two quarters.

The problem for the Fighting Irish the past two seasons is that few opponents match up physically quite the way the Cardinals do. Where some opponents might have one player who can stay with Ogunbowale, for example, the Cardinals have four. They didn’t even need to risk using up Durr’s energy because they could use Arica Carter, Dana Evans and Jazmine Jones. They have big, agile bodies to stay with Brianna Turner and Jessica Shepherd.

And midway through the second quarter, Durr had scored 16 points seemingly without breaking a sweat, while Ogunbowale had to work the full length of the court to get anything going. Louisville’s lead grew as big as seven points in the second quarter.

Crucially, however, Notre Dame also had as many offensive rebounds as turnover in that first half. It was that effort, best embodied by Shepard that made this unlike the game played a year ago Friday in Louisville. Shepard had 13 rebounds in the first half, four fewer than Louisville.

The Fighting Irish kept coming, kept putting shots on the rim and kept going for rebounds. It was the only thing the Cardinals couldn’t contend with and they paid dearly for it. By halftime, Evans and Carter each had three fouls, Jones had two after playing sparingly and three other Louisville players also had two fouls, including Durr. The foul trouble never relented.

It wasn’t that Notre Dame was too difficult to stop, it was just that the Irish kept giving the Cardinals chances to foul them.

Notre Dame won the championship a season ago by finding a way to make things work, not letting myriad injuries derail its season. Thursday night, it passed the only test still outstanding in this run. And it did it the same way. By leaning into the nightmare.

Credit: Notre Dame, Ogunbowale rally past No. 2 Louisville