TAMPA, Fla. -- For the second straight year, Notre Dame beat UConn in the Women's Final Four. Friday's 81-76 win put the defending NCAA champion Irish in the title game against Baylor on Sunday.
Here's how Notre Dame won.
Turner helps Irish come out on top
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw has repeatedly said that senior Brianna Turner is the anchor of the Irish defense. Those words proved prophetic in Friday's win. Turner made the biggest defensive play of the night, and of her career, with 49 seconds left and the Irish clinging to a 76-73 lead.
UConn's Napheesa Collier had what looked to be an easy layup, but Turner moved back across the lane and extended her arm to block the shot and snag the loose ball. Arike Ogunbowale hit two free throws at the other end and Notre Dame was finally clear of the Huskies in a game that featured 26 lead changes.
The block was Turner's fifth of the game and 371st of her career, moving her past Ruth Riley on the school's all-time list.
Turner, who missed all of last season to rehab a torn ACL as Notre Dame won its second national championship, was a force all night, with 15 points and 15 rebounds. She was effective in limiting Collier, especially in the second half. UConn's leading scorer managed only four points after halftime.
The win was not only Notre Dame's second straight in the Final Four against UConn, it was the Irish's ninth in the past 10 seasons over the Huskies. The rest of Division I has only eight.
Arike does it again
It wasn't the buzzer-beating heroics of last year's Final Four, but Ogunbowale once again delivered in the second half. The senior scored only two points on 1-of-7 shooting in what was a bad shooting display in the first half for both teams. She finished with a game-high 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting.
Second-half awakenings are a habit for Ogunbowale. In last year's Final Four, she scored five and two points in the first half against UConn and Mississippi State, respectively, but ended those games with 22 and 16 points, including buzzer-beating winning shots in both.
Samuelson doesn't go quietly
While fellow senior Collier struggled in the second half of her final college game, Katie Lou Samuelson was brilliant. After a scoreless first half, Samuelson produced 20 points, including three 3-pointers, after halftime on 7-of-12 shooting.
The Huskies struggled from beyond the arc most of the night, but Samuelson gave them a boost. With 7:51 to play, UConn took a 64-55 lead after a 10-3 run that began with a Samuelson 3-pointer.
Samuelson and Collier finish their UConn careers with only five career losses -- but three of them came in the national semifinals the past three seasons. Those losses were by a total of nine points.
Neither team shot well early
Both teams struggled mightily on offense in the first half, mostly due to bad shooting. UConn was 2-of-14 from 3-point range in the first half. Notre Dame was 1-of-11. Frustrated with his team's offense as a whole, at one point late in the half, Geno Auriemma turned to his assistant coaches and said, "I have no idea what we are doing."
Both teams were better in the second half, but the Huskies' 8-of-28 shooting from 3-point range for the game was still way off the 14 3-pointers they made against Louisville in the Elite Eight. Notre Dame, riding Ogunbowale's second half and a reemergence of Marina Mabrey, made 6-of-8 from beyond the arc after halftime.
UConn outshot Notre Dame 42 percent to 39 percent from the field for the game, but the Irish outrebounded the Huskies 54-37 and scored 22 second-chance points, the second most the Huskies have given up this season.
Mabrey finally warms up
With the most prolific offense in the country this season, Notre Dame prides itself on having five starters who average better than 13 points. But Mabrey's scoring had disappeared in the NCAA tournament; she totaled 12 points through the first four games.
Despite some early shooting woes, Maybrey finished with 12 points and two big second-half 3-pointers, including one that knotted the score at 66 with 4:26 to play, as Notre Dame erased a nine-point deficit.