TAMPA, Fla. - Sometimes, heroes don’t follow scripts.

Sometimes, they come out of nowhere to save the day.

Ask Madison Cable who, like everyone else in Amalie Arena, expected the shot from Notre Dame teammate Jewell Loyd to drop through the net with the winning points Sunday night in the national semifinals against South Carolina.

After all, Loyd is an All-America guard, one of the best players in women’s college basketball. She scored 22 points. It made sense that she was going to be the hero if anyone for Notre Dame would be.

But she wasn’t. With 24 seconds left and the Irish trailing by one point, Loyd’s shot was short.

Cable, however, was crashing toward the boards. She ran underneath and grabbed the shot and kept running. Then, with 18 seconds to play, she spun and hit a turnaround jumper to lift Notre Dame to a 66-65 victory. It was Cable’s only basket of the game.

Shots such as that one are what make a player a legend. Forever, Maddie Cable will be the guard who beat South Carolina.

“Maddie saw a bunny,” Loyd said. “She has done that all year. She’s awesome. MVP.”

Who would have expected it? Not Cable.

“Jewell shot it, which usually it goes in all the time,” Cable said. “I was just crashing to try to get a rebound, and it bounced right where I was. I turned around and took a shot. Luckily, it went in. Thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve ever hit a bigger basket.”

It lifted Notre Dame (36-2) to Tuesday night’s championship game against Connecticut (37-1), the fourth title game in the last five years for the Irish. In all, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw has led the Irish to seven Final Four appearances, but she hasn’t won a title since 2001.

“I thought Madison Cable was the best sixth man in our league,” McGraw said. “She didn’t win the award, but she was the key for us in so many games.”

This time, it took Notre Dame holding on by the fingernails. Gamecocks guard Tiffany Mitchell missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

The Irish prevailed even though forward Brianna Turner fouled out with 3:11 to play.

“She has amazing talent,” McGraw said of Turner. “She just wants to learn. She’s a hard worker. She can run the floor. She can block shots and rebounds. I thought for her first Final Four, she played extremely well. I’m so happy with her potential and where she is going.”

At the end of the game, McGraw did a small dance of satisfaction.

“I was just amazed,” she said. “Yeah, I was pretty happy after that one.”

South Carolina, which trailed for much of the game, finally took the lead with 1:14 to play on an offensive rebound and put-back by Aleighsa Welch.

Welch, however, missed another shot with 32 seconds left. Loyd grabbed the rebound to set up the decisive sequence. In all, the Gamecocks led only for 56 seconds of the game.

“We were in the game,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “We fought our way back. We got the lead. At that point, you don’t exhale and think you have the game won. It’s just that they made a play. I think the shot was kind of short that Loyd missed.

“I thought if we could get that last possession to fall, it would have given us a little bit of a cushion. But we couldn’t.”

South Carolina (34-3) had trouble hitting shots for most of the night. The Gamecocks sank only

33 percent in the first half. In the second half, they improved to 55 percent, but the Gamecocks left too many points on the floor. At the free-throw line, South Carolina hit only seven of 16.

Notre Dame took a 15-3 lead early, only to have South Carolina fight from behind to tie it at 36. Notre Dame then spurted ahead by 10, but again, the Gamecocks got back into things.

“It came down to them making a play when they needed to make a play and we didn’t,” Staley said.

Forward/guard A’ja Wilson had 20 points to lead South Carolina, but high-scoring guard Mitchell had only 11. Center Alaina Coates scored 12, and Welch finished with 10 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.

Turner scored 17, and forward Taya Reimer added 16 for Notre Dame.

Newsletter signup for email alerts