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Together to the top: Lady Bears win it all in tough 82-81 thriller

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Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey and her team hold up the WBCA championship trophy.

TAMPA, Fla. — In the end, the Baylor Lady Bears had to rely on guts and their intense will to win.

With Lauren Cox out of the game with an injury, NaLyssa Smith on the bench after fouling out and Chloe Jackson and DiDi Richards each a foul away from exiting as well, many of the Lady Bears’ usual options weren’t available.

That didn’t stop them.

The Lady Bears found a way to make just enough stops against a talented Notre Dame offensive team, and then Jackson finished it.

With the clock ticking under 10 seconds, the graduate transfer point guard waited on a high ball screen from Richards, then went to the basket against Notre Dame’s Jackie Young. Jackson finished the drive with a layup that ultimately lifted Baylor to an 82-81 victory over the Fighting Irish on Sunday night at Amalie Arena.

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Baylor guard Chloe Jackson drives for the game-winning basket past Notre Dame forward Brianna Turner.

Baylor Notre Dame

The Baylor Lady Bears celebrate their national championship win over Notre Dame.

“It’s the same play we ran (Friday) against Oregon, last game,” Jackson said. “(Baylor coach Kim Mulkey) told me just get to the basket. If the wing helps over, then kick it to Juicy. If not just, get all the way to the rim and that’s what I did.”

Jackson’s basket gave the Lady Bears an 82-80 lead with 3.9 seconds remaining. But Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale had been in that situation before as she made the game-winning 3-pointer with 1 second left to clinch the Fighting Irish’s national championship a year ago.

Notre Dame put the ball in Ogunbowale’s hands again and this time she got to the free-throw line after the officials called a foul on Moon Ursin.

But Ogunbowale missed the first of her two shots with 1.9 seconds left. She made the second, but Notre Dame never got its hands on the ball again. After Notre Dame committed a foul to stop the clock, Richards inbounded the ball with .3 seconds left. Her pass was tipped, starting the clock and time expired.

With that, the confetti flew and Baylor celebrated its third national championship. The Lady Bears were right on schedule after winning their first national title in 2005, their second seven years later in 2012 and now their third in 2019.

The Lady Bears, who finished the season with a 37-1 record and on a 29-game winning streak, celebrated with their fans and family on the court for long after the final buzzer sounded. They held multiple trophies and cut down the nets.

But the first priority, at least for Baylor star center Kalani Brown, was to find Cox, who suffered a knee injury with 1:22 remaining in the third quarter and didn’t return.

“I just told her we did this for you,” Brown said. “When she went down, I can say we got a little rattled. We had to pull it together and pull it out for her. The whole time, she was coaching on the sideline. She was still involved when she came out of that tunnel and I just think that speaks volumes for her character.”

Baylor Notre Dame

Baylor forward Lauren Cox grabs her knee late in the third quarter. Cox left the game and did not return, forcing the Lady Bears to play without one of their leaders.

With its full arsenal on both the offensive and defensive ends, Baylor played its game in the first three quarters and Notre Dame (35-4) struggled to keep up.

The Lady Bears filled up the basket in the first half as they built a 17-point lead.

Jackson pulled up for and nailed a jumper to cap an 8-0 run and gave the Lady Bears their largest lead of the first half at 33-16 with 6:38 left before the break.

Baylor held Notre Dame to 28-percent shooting in the first half. The Lady Bears gave up just eight points in the paint as they blocked six shots in that period.

The inside-outside combo of Jackson and Brown led the way on the offensive end as the Baylor point guard scored 14 and the center added 12.

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Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey calls in a play against Notre Dame in the first half.

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Baylor guard Juicy Landrum cuts down the net after the Lady Bears' national championship win.

The only thing driving Mulkey crazy in the first 20 minutes was Notre Dame’s knack for grabbing offensive rebounds. The Fighting Irish secured 13 offensive boards and scored nine second-chance points in the first half.

Even so, Baylor won the second-chance-points category through the break. Brown put back a Jackson miss with three seconds left in the second quarter, allowing the Lady Bears to take a 43-31 edge to halftime.

Baylor kept it going in the third quarter and grabbed a 14-point lead when guard Juicy Landrum hit her second 3-pointer of the contest with 2:21 remaining in the period.

A minute later, though, Cox suffered the injury that changed the rest of the contest.

“The worst part of the game was (Lauren Cox’s injury),” Mulkey said. “We controlled that game from the start until the time she went off the floor and we had to regroup. For us to win, probably was a miracle in itself when you lose a player of that caliber. Not only the talent she has, but she’s our leader, people.”

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Baylor forward Lauren Cox blocks a shot by Notre Dame forward Brianna Turner in the first half.

Notre Dame charged with a 19-8 run through the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. Fighting Irish guard Marina Mabrey nailed a 3-pointer to tie it with 5:18 left and it was time for Baylor’s gut check.

“We’re always prepared for little things,” Richards said. “Everything was foreshadowing this event. This was going to happen eventually. It’s showed that this team is strong. It showed that we’ve got each other’s back no matter what, for sure.”

Notre Dame edged in front, 77-76, when Ogunbowale hit a free throw with 3:17 left.

However, through it all, and even playing four guards at the end, the Lady Bears held the Fighting Irish to zero field goals in the game’s final four minutes.

Jackson pulled up in the lane and made a jumper that gave Baylor an 80-78 advantage in the final minute. Notre Dame answered as forward Jessica Shepard made two free throws, setting up the final sequence.

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Baylor guard Chloe Jackson reacts a bat the end  of the first quarter against Notre Dame.

Jackson, playing her first and only season at Baylor, proved her value once again at the end as she scored 26 points with five assists and earned the Final Four Most Outstanding Player honor.

Brown finished her career with another impressive double-double — 20 points and 13 rebounds.

And in the end, Baylor defined its style as championship basketball.

“The old school won a national championship,” Mulkey said. “Whatever that means, I don’t know what old school means. I just know how to win and you do what your personnel is capable of doing.”