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Notre Dame Women's Basketball Team Wins National Championship

Apr 2, 2018
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Last night, the Irish kept fighting. It was the Women's National Basketball title game, and it came down to one final shot. Here's ESPN's Adam Amin on the call.

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ADAM AMIN: Ogunbowale for the win.

UNIDENTIFIED FANS: (Cheering).

AMIN: Arike Ogunbowale wins the national championship for Notre Dame.

INSKEEP: A little excited there. Notre Dame defeated Mississippi State, the first national championship for the Fighting Irish in 17 years. And the head coach, Muffet McGraw, is on the line. Good morning.

MUFFETT MCGRAW: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Hey, congratulations.

MCGRAW: Wow. Thank you. It's still sinking in.

INSKEEP: So I want to ask about the end of this game. For those who didn't see it, it's a little - forgive me for saying this, but, it reminds me of the end of "Hoosiers" because you got the huddle at the end. You're thinking about that final shot. There's a few seconds on the clock. So is the shot that was taken the shot that you planned for them to take?

MCGRAW: Well, of course not. As it would happen, we were going inside to Jessica Shepard, who had had a great game, and we'd felt we'd get a little closer to the basket. It was a tie game. All we needed was one basket. And the second choice, if that didn't work, was Arike coming off the screen and just really creating and making whatever she could out of the one-on-one play. And, fortunately, Option A didn't work.

INSKEEP: (Laughter). And there you go. Isn't this the second time she's won a game with a last-second shot?

MCGRAW: Second time. Friday night against Connecticut, the national champs for eight years, the same situation late in the game came down. We had 14 seconds. We wanted to get the ball to Arike. We finally got it to her, not in a prime location where we wanted it, but, she got the ball on the wing and, bam, another game winner.

INSKEEP: So Coach, after more than 30 years of doing this, do you think you understand what it is? Can you identify what the difference is between the talented player who doesn't make that shot at the final seconds and the talented player who does?

MCGRAW: You know, I think there's always a little bit of luck, and the luck of the Irish on Easter Sunday with all the Catholics praying for us had to be going in our favor, but...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MCGRAW: ...She worked so hard. She is in the gym all the time, and she has the confidence and swagger to know that that shot has a really good chance of going in.

INSKEEP: How does this differ from your last national title, which, some people will know, was 17 years ago?

MCGRAW: Well, we were all about the "Hoosiers" here. Ruth Riley on the free throw line from the state of Indiana, and has to make two free throws in order for us to win the game with, I think, maybe three or four seconds left in the game. And when it's your first one, that's pretty special, too. But this one, this one was really, it was exciting, both games.

INSKEEP: I'm just also thinking that was back in 2001. That was before 9/11. That was a different universe, almost, than...

MCGRAW: It was.

INSKEEP: ...Than the one in which you're playing now. How meaningful is this title for you, this latest one?

MCGRAW: You know, this one means a lot. We've been back to the Final Four. We've been there eight times, only came away with the victory twice now. So you start to feel a little bit like a bridesmaid here. You're in the party, but you're not the main attention.

INSKEEP: And this one was considered somewhat surprising even though you were a top seed.

MCGRAW: It was very surprising. We lost four players this year to ACLs. And the joke around the media was that we had more ACLs than losses.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MCGRAW: And we just...

INSKEEP: If you can keep that ratio in that direction, that's kind of good, actually.

MCGRAW: So we just battled through. You know? We kept losing players, and different people stepped up. We only had seven scholarship players left by the end and played our guards 40 minutes whenever we could because we only had three guards. So it was a challenging year coaching-wise, but definitely for the players - who wants to come out of the game? They were pretty darn happy playing 40 minutes a game.

INSKEEP: There you go. Ann O'Brien "Muffet" McGraw is head coach of the national champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Coach, thanks very much.

MCGRAW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.