COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Buzzer-beating shots. Two (almost three) overtime games. The overall No. 1 seed losing for the first time all season. A program winning a second NCAA title 17 years after its first. A dozen or more future WNBA players taking the court. And, yes, even some officiating calls and non-calls that will keep fans debating as long as they remember this Women's Final Four.
And that should be for a long time. For everyone who wondered if all four No. 1 seeds reaching Nationwide Arena would result in a boringly predictable Women's Final Four -- it didn't. In terms of sheer drama, this weekend was the best women's college basketball has ever seen.
The 2017-18 season ended Sunday with Notre Dame's 61-58 victory over Mississippi State on Arike Ogunbowale's 3-pointer with less than 1 second left. She also hit a long, 2-point jump shot Friday to beat No. 1 overall seed UConn in the semifinals. Those two clutch baskets lifted Ogunbowale into Women's Final Four fame, along with the likes of North Carolina's Charlotte Smith and Maryland's Kristi Toliver.
"It was kind of a desperation shot, with only 3 seconds left," Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw said. "She had a great idea of the clock going in her head. When it went through, I couldn't honestly believe that it went in."
Big time shot Arike! We are a @UConnWBB family but we love seeing great players making great plays. I know my lil sis @jewellloyd is happy Well done @ndwbb good luck on Sunday #mambamentality 🙌 https://t.co/8DxHkNURN7— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 31, 2018
Wow, my life is complete. The GOAT 😭🙌🏾 https://t.co/91wiItW0KN— Arike Ogunbowale (@Arike_O) March 31, 2018
Great to catch up with you @NancyLieberman and witness two epic games. The future of women's hoops is looking brighter than ever 🙌— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 31, 2018
Smith's 3-pointer in the 1994 NCAA final came with seven-tenths of a second left and lifted the Tar Heels to a 60-59 victory over Louisiana Tech. It still ranks as the greatest shot in women's NCAA tournament history. But that was a fantastic ending to an otherwise ragged game. And while one of the 1994 semifinals was close -- Louisiana Tech's three-point win over Alabama -- the other, North Carolina's 15-point victory against Purdue, wasn't.
Toliver's late 3-pointer in the 2006 NCAA final against Duke sent the game to overtime, where the Terps prevailed 78-75. That was a great championship game, but the semifinals that year -- Maryland beat North Carolina by 11, and Duke topped LSU by 19 -- weren't compelling.
In fact, this year's Final Four doesn't have much competition for "best ever" in terms of quality and closeness of all three games if you go back through the history of the women's NCAA tournament, which began in 1982. Some other candidates:
1991: Each game was decided by single digits, ending with Tennessee's 70-67 overtime win over Virginia that was so close, and the Cavaliers' Dawn Staley was the Final Four's most outstanding player despite being on the losing team -- the only time that has happened.
1993: Ohio State beat fellow Big Ten team Iowa 73-72 in overtime in the semifinals. Then, Sheryl Swoopes and Texas Tech edged Katie Smith and Ohio State 84-82 in the final; both players are Naismith Hall of Famers, with Smith named to the Class of 2018 last week. Swoopes' 47 points remain the championship game record. The other semifinal that year wasn't close; Texas Tech beat Vanderbilt 60-46.
2003: Diana Taurasi led a UConn rally to beat Texas 71-69, and then the Huskies beat Tennessee 73-68 in the final. In the other semifinal, the Lady Vols beat Duke and Alana Beard by 10 points; both she and Taurasi are still WNBA standouts.
2011: In the semis, Texas A&M slipped by Stanford 63-62, while Notre Dame ended UConn's quest for a three-peat, winning 72-63. The final came down to the wire, with Tyra White's 3-pointer the dagger with just over one minute left in the Aggies' 76-70 win over the Irish.
Crazy! Well women's basketball fans.... this has been a remarkable final four... couldn't ask for a better one! Congrats Notre Dame! Mississippi St. this will sting. Keep your head up.— Candace Parker (@Candace_Parker) April 2, 2018
In this year's Final Four, each game easily could have had a different outcome. Mississippi State's late 3-pointer in regulation tied Louisville 59-59, but the Cardinals then had a shot to end it; some felt Myisha Hines-Allen was fouled. But the game went to overtime, and the Bulldogs prevailed 73-63.
In the second semifinal, Notre Dame had a five-point lead with 21 seconds left in regulation. But Napheesa Collier's 3-pointer and Kia Nurse's steal and layup tied it. After another Irish turnover, UConn's Gabby Williams had a shot to win it but missed.
The Irish also saw a late lead slip away in the overtime, with Crystal Dangerfield tying the score for UConn on a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left. But Ogunbowale had the first of her two unforgettable shots, nailing a jumper over Collier and putting Notre Dame up 91-89.
With one second left and no timeouts, UConn got a better look than expected at what would have been the tying basket. Williams heaved a baseball pass that Notre Dame's Jessica Shepard inadvertently tipped right to UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson. Her shot didn't go in, but if it had, it would have prompted a review to see if it beat the buzzer. We could have been going to double overtime, which has never happened in the Women's Final Four.
Chills... Cold Blooded!! Wowowow https://t.co/FXQrhDkN4u— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) April 2, 2018
In the championship game, Mississippi State led by as much as 15. But Notre Dame had come back from double-digit deficits six previous times this season, including in the semifinal against UConn.
With the score tied in the final minute, Notre Dame had the ball with a chance to take the winning shot but turned it over. Mississippi State had the ball in point guard Morgan William's hands until Marina Mabrey ran into her and knocked her down in an attempt to get it back. No foul was called.
Jackie Young got the loose ball, and Teaira McCowan was called for a foul on Young. That sent McCowan to the Mississippi State bench with five fouls. And Notre Dame had another chance, leading to Ogunbowale's heroics.
That's really how close all three games were: just one shot or one official's whistle could have resulted in entirely different outcomes. It was breathtaking competition in front of 19,564 fans at Nationwide Arena.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma predicted this in his pre-Final Four teleconference.
"I think the field is the strongest I've seen in a long, long time. Maybe ever," he said. "And the fans are in for a treat. I don't know if the coaches are, but certainly the fans are."
Then, the games exceeded the high expectations. Hard to ask for more of a Final Four than that.