CHICAGO – For stretches in the first half, it seemed as if Notre Dame couldn't buy a bucket.
It didn't last, though, as the Irish (34-3) came alive in the second half to beat Stanford 84-68 on Monday at Wintrust Arena to win the Chicago Regional and book a return trip to the Final Four.
The Irish are now headed to Tampa, where they will once again face 11-time national champion UConn. Arike Ogunbowale hit a last-second game-winner as the Irish beat the Huskies in overtime in last year's national semifinal.
Stanford (31-5), which led 33-26 at halftime, stretched the lead to nine points in the third quarter before Notre Dame started chipping away. An Ogunbowale layup slowly rolled into the bucket – something that never seemed to happen in the first half – to cut the Cardinal lead to 35-30. Stanford responded with a basket, but Jessica Shepard completed an old-fashioned 3-point play to cut the lead to four points.
A few minutes later, Marina Mabrey, who had struggled with her shot all tournament, brought the crowd to her feet when she knocked in a layup, her first bucket of the game, to cut the Stanford lead to 40-39. With just over two minutes to go in the third quarter, a layup by Jackie Young gave the Irish their first lead of the half, 45-44, and then quickly hit another, forcing Stanford to call a timeout.
But much as the Cardinal tried to regroup, the Irish were well on their way to the win.
Young, who finished with a game-high 25 points, scored 19 of them in the second half. Ogunbowale scored 13 of her 21 points in the second half, despite exiting the game after picking up her third foul in the third quarter. Brianna Turner finished with 14 points, while Shepard recorded another double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. The team that couldn't seem to hit anything in the first half shot 64 percent from the field in the second half.
Kiana Williams led Stanford with 20 points and DiJonai Carrington added 18.