Notre Dame keeps finding ways to win. One more victory and the Irish will be national champions again.
A young team that lost three starters from last year's squad is back in the NCAA title game after fighting off a comeback by Final Four newcomer South Carolina, 66-65, on Sunday night.
All-American Jewell Loyd scored 22 points as the Irish (36-2) advanced to the championship game for the fourth time in five years, but it took a basket from an unlikely source to survive a scoring drought that lasted more than seven minutes down the stretch.
Madison Cable's putback for her only points of the night put the Irish in front for good.
“I was just crashing any way to try to get a rebound, and it kind of just bounced right where I was,” Cable said. “I turned around and had an open shot and took it. Luckily, it went in.”
Loyd said no one boxed out Cable on her game-winning basket, adding: “She's done it all year. She's the MVP.”
The Irish ran out to double-digit leads, but the Gamecocks wouldn't go away.
“We didn't rebound, missed a bunch of shots,” said Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw. “Just a great basketball game. We went to Jewell. She had to do everything. Everyone contributed.”
Notre Dame is looking to win it all for the first time since McGraw led them to their only national title in 2001.
South Carolina (34-3) used a 13-0 run to take their only lead on Aleighsa Welch's offensive stickback with 1:12 remaining.
“It came down to them making a play when they needed to make a play, and we didn't,” South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley said.
Brianna Turner scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Notre Dame before fouling out. Taya Reimer had 16 points for Notre Dame.
Freshman A'ja Wilson came off the bench to lead South Carolina with 20 points. She scored 10 straight for the Gamecocks at one point in the second half to keep her team within striking distance.
Notre Dame led 64-52 with 7:51 to go. The Irish missed eight straight shots before Cable wiped out South Carolina's short-lived lead. South Carolina All-American Tiffany Mitchell's off-balance three-point attempt bounced high off the backboard as time ran out.
“They were making it hard for me to try and find a shot. And when I tried to pass it, they deflected it,” said Mitchell, who finished with 11 points.
The Gamecocks hurt themselves, going seven for 16 from the foul line and missing six of seven in the closing minutes.
“That's key. We left a lot of points at the free-throw line,” Staley said. “But you know, still we overcame that to put ourselves in a position to take the lead.”
Notre Dame lost to Connecticut in a matchup of unbeaten teams in last year's title game. The Irish came up short against Texas A&M in 2011 and Baylor in 2012.
“It's surreal right now, can't believe that we're here,” Loyd said of advancing to Tuesday night's title game. “Glad we played the early game and can get some rest.”