• September 28, 2021

Madison Cable delivers as Notre Dame survives first semifinal, 66-65

By David Siegel and Cheryl Coward

TAMPA, Fla. – Senior guard Madison Cable made one shot in the entire first semifinal of the national championship but it was the game winner with 16 seconds remaining. Her Notre Dame Fighting Irish survived a determined South Carolina (34-3) in a battle of number one seeds, 66-65 at Amalie Arena in front of a crowd of 19,730.

“I thought Madison Cable was the best sixth man in the league,” said Irish head coach Muffet McGraw postgame. “She didn’t win the award.  But she was so key in so many games for us. Plays a lot minutes for us.”

All-American guard, junior Jewell Loyd, who led the Irish with 22 points, took the “final” shot Notre Dame (36-2) wanted, down one with time running down, but it was short and Cable came from under the basket to grab the miss and put in a short jumper for the final points.

South Carolina’s All-American junior guard Tiffany Mitchell received the ball out of a final timeout for the Gamecocks, but Notre Dame’s switching defense did not allow a good look at the basket. Mitchell’s final heave was off the mark.

“We went there, the last possession just didn’t come in our favor,” said Gamecocks freshman A’ja Wilson about the end of the game. “We know now when we get back to the drawing board what to do.”

South Carolina ended the season after winning a school-record 34 games in 2014-15, their second 30-win season in program history.

Notre Dame moves on to face the winner of Connecticut versus Maryland in the nightcap.

Loyd continued her struggles from the floor during the NCAA tournament, going 9-for-24, as South Carolina ran multiple defenders at her. The inside presence of sophomore forward Taya Reimer and freshman forward Brianna Turner, however, was a difference maker, as the duo scored 33 points and hauled in 14 rebounds against the more highly touted front line of South Carolina.

The Gamecocks won the battle of the boards, 45 to 37, and shot 43 percent from the floor to 40 percent for Notre Dame. They also outscored the Irish in the paint 48-to-32, but hit only 7-of-16 foul shots, including a combined 0-for-7 from senior forward Aleighsa Welch and sophomore center Alaina Coates, while Notre Dame hit 12-of-14 from the line.

The pregame build up focused on Loyd and Mitchell, former teammates on USA Basketball’s gold medal winning 3×3 team last summer. Mitchell scored 11 points, but was denied the ball in big situations by the Irish defense.

Instead it was the two freshmen, Turner and Wilson, two of the nation’s top recruits coming into the season, who did not disappoint. Wilson led South Carolina with 20 points and nine rebounds. Turner had 17 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with just over three minutes left.

“It’s tough, we did all we could, and it just didn’t come in our favor,” said Wilson about the loss. “It is tough losing. Each and every one of us hates losing, but we’re just going to learn from it.”

For South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, the team failed to capitalize on an opportunity down the stretch.

“I feel that our team did what they had to do to put themselves in the position to win the game,” said Staley. “Unfortunately for us, it came down to them making a play when they needed to make a play and we didn’t.”

South Carolina continually played from behind, missing out on opportunities with costly turnovers and missed foul shots as they struggled to get back in the game time and again. They finally took their first lead on Welch’s layup with 1:12 left, setting up Cable’s last second heroics.

The all-time series between the teams is now tied 2-2 with the Fighting Irish winning the last two meetings.

It was the first-ever Final Four appearance for the Gamecocks. They became the first team from the Southeastern Conference to play a game in the Final Four since 2008 when Tennessee won the national title and LSU reached the national semifinals.

While this is the fifth consecutive Final Four for Notre Dame, it is still exhilarating for McGraw to reach the title game again.

“It’s surreal, right now. I can’t believe that we’re here. I’m just glad we played the earlier game so I can get a little rest.”

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