On Sunday night, Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale drilled a contested, go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner with 0.1 seconds remaining in the national championship game to secure a title for the Fighting Irish. It was quite possibly the most incredible, high-stakes shot in college basketball history.
Except that it might not have been Ogunbowale’s most impressive make of the weekend. Two days before the guard’s title-game heroics, she had hit another game-winning shot, this one with a second left in overtime against undefeated UConn in the national semifinal.
Ogunbowale’s back-to-back buzzer-beaters in the most important games of the season (in which she averaged 22.5 points) raise a question that sounds like hyperbole but truly isn’t: Did Ogunbowale have the most clutch weekend in sports history?
I asked Sunday night on Twitter whether any previous athlete had submitted back-to-back (or near back-to-back) performances as clutch as Ogunbowale’s and received several suggestions. Let’s run through them:
- LeBron James in Games 6 and 7 of the 2013 and/or 2016 NBA Finals. In both 2013 and 2016, LeBron carried his teams to NBA titles with remarkable performances in the final games. What The King’s runs were missing, however, was the type of signature moment Ogunbowale had. Maybe if LeBron had hit that 3-pointer against San Antonio or finished the dunk on Draymond Green he would have a case, but as it is he can’t beat back-to-back game-winners.
- Adam Vinatieri in the 2001 NFL Playoffs. Vinatieri did nail game-winning kicks in both the AFC divisional players and the Super Bowl, but Ogunbowale’s heroics came in the final two games, not two of the final three. Plus, game-winning kicks, even in the snow, are converted at a higher rate than game-winning jump shots, so Ogunbowale wins for degree of difficulty.
- David Ortiz in Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS. No shade to Big Papi, but his famous hits against the Yankees came in the league championship series, not the World Series. And they weren’t even in the final games.
- Randy Johnson in Games 6 and 7 of the 2001 World Series. This was a good one. The Big Unit shut down the Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series, then came back to throw the final inning and a third in Game 7. (Madison Bumgarner could also be included here, having played hero in Games 5 and 7 in 2014.) But great as Johnson’s performance was, back-to-back buzzer-beaters are hard to top.
- Magic Johnson in Games 5 and 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals. A triple-double in Game 5 followed by 42-15-7 in Game 6? Pretty darn good. Neither contest was do-or-die for the Lakers, though.
- Paul Henderson scores winning goals in Games 6, 7 and 8 of 1972 Summit Series. This example may be more obscure than the others, but it’s also most analogous to what Ogunbowale did. Facing the Soviet Union in a series with great geopolitical relevance, Henderson scored game-winning goal in the final three contests to lead Team Canada to victory. His final score in Game 8 has been called “the goal of the century.”
So what’s the answer? Do Ogunbowale’s shots place her atop the all-time clutch ranking?
Well, you can decide for yourself. There have been plenty of clutch performances throughout sports history, some of which may rival Ogunbowale’s pair of buzzer-beaters. We can quibble all day over what clutch means and how to define it and debate whether buzzer-beaters are better than triple-doubles. But in the end, what’s undeniable is that Arike Ogunbowale just had a weekend for the ages.