Chloe Jackson’s driving layup with 3.9 seconds left Sunday night lifted top-seeded Baylor to an 82-81 win over defending champion Notre Dame for the NCAA Women’s National Championship at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
Jackson pumped in 26 points on 13-of-25 shooting for the Lady Bears (37-1), who joined Connecticut and Tennessee as the only women’s programs to win at least three national titles. Baylor’s previous championships came in 2005 and 2012.
The Fighting Irish (35-4) had a chance to force overtime, but Arike Ogunbowale missed the first of two foul shots with 1.9 seconds remaining. She tried to miss the second on purpose, hoping for an offensive rebound, but made it. The Bears were able to melt away the remaining time just trying to inbound the ball.
Baylor hung on despite losing 6-foot-4 junior Lauren Cox to a left leg injury in the closing minutes of the third quarter. The Lady Bears led by 12 at the time, and the Irish wasted little time taking advantage.
Cox, who became tangled up with 6-7 teammate Kalani Brown while going for a rebound under the Notre Dame basket, stayed down on the floor for several minutes, before she was finally wheeled off the court in a wheelchair.
Given the opportunity, Notre Dame quickly began cutting into the lead.
A jumper by Ogunbowale with 9:06 to play trimmed the Lady Bears’ edge to 66-60, and Marina Mabrey’s 3-pointer with 5:18 to play pulled the Irish even at 74-74.
But the Lady Bears were able to hold off the charge, with their leader looking on. By late in the fourth quarter, Cox had returned to the Baylor bench with metal crutches.
“I’m one of the leaders of the team, so just to have my voice there, to tell them that I’m still OK, and they told me they were going to do this for me,” Cox told ESPN after the game. She was able to share in the postgame celebration and climb the ladder to help cut down the nets.
After the win, Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey was in tears, mostly “tears of joy,” she said, and mostly for Cox.
“She’s the heart and soul of this team,” Mulkey said. “I’m emotional for a lot of reasons, but mostly for Lauren Cox, and I’m so happy. These are tears of joy, but they’re also tears of thinking about injuries. Kristy Wallace last year, Lauren Cox ... Those kids give me everything they have, and sometimes life doesn’t seem fair.”
Last season, Baylor lost Wallace, a point guard in her senior season, to a right knee injury late in the Big 12 Conference season.
Jackson added of Cox, “We had to finish the job for her.”
Cox, a two-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a third-team AP All-American this year, finished with eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks in 29 minutes. Brown scored 20 points and added 13 rebounds and two blocks, and freshman NaLyssa Smith scored 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting while filling in for Cox.
“We just beat the defending national champions. That team is so good, so talented. You’re going to see those guys play at the next level,” Mulkey said.
Ogunbowale scored a game-high 31 points on 11-of-27 shooting, while Mabrey added 21. Brianna Turner contributed 12 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, and Jessica Shepard chipped in 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Baylor put its stamp on the game right away, forcing a Notre Dame timeout just 3:46 into the game when Jackson canned a jumper for an 11-3 lead. Jackson capped a 10-point quarter with a driving layup as time expired for a 25-14 Bears lead.
The margin reached 17 when Jackson converted a jumper with 6:38 left in the second quarter to make it 33-16. The Irish finally pushed back with a 9-0 run, but Brown’s putback with 2.3 seconds remaining enabled Baylor to take a 43-31 advantage to the locker room.
A Juicy Landrum 3-pointer with 2:21 remaining in the third quarter gave the Bears a 60-46 lead, but Notre Dame started its comeback with Agunbowale’s pull-up 3-pointer as the horn sounded, pushing it within 66-55.
The Fighting Irish scored the first eight points of the final quarter to get within three, then tied the game at 74 with 5:18 to play on a 3-pointer by Mabrey. They took a brief lead on Ogunbowale’s free throw with 3:17 left, going ahead 77-76, but Brown’s jumper put the Bears back in front before the final sequence.
—Field Level Media