Stanford edges Arizona to win first NCAA women’s tournament title since 1992
Haley Jones scored 17 points and Stanford beat Arizona 54-53, giving the Cardinal and coach Tara VanDerveer their first national championship in 29 years on Sunday night.
It wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch with both teams struggling to score and missing easy layups and shots, but Stanford did just enough to pull off the win.
Stanford (31-2) built a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter before Arizona (21-6) cut it to 51-50 on star guard Aari McDonald’s three-pointer.
After a timeout, Jones answered with a three-point play with 2:24 left. That would be Stanford’s last basket of the game. McDonald got the Wildcats within 54-53 with 36.6 seconds left, converting three of four free throws.
In one of the best games in NCAA Final Four history, UCLA did not deserve to lose on one of the most unlikely final shots in tournament history.
The Cardinal, after another timeout, couldn’t even get a shot off, giving Arizona one last chance with 6.1 seconds left, but McDonald’s contested shot from the top of the key at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
It’s been quite a journey for VanDerveer and the Cardinal this season. The team was forced on the road for nearly 10 weeks because of the coronavirus, spending 86 days in hotels during this nomadic season.
The team didn’t complain and went about its business and now has another NCAA championship. Along the way the Hall of Fame coach earned her 1,099th career victory to pass Pat Summitt for the most in women’s basketball history.
Now the 67-year-old coach has a third national title to go along with the ones she won in 1990 and 1992. That moved her into a tie with Baylor’s Kim Mulkey for third most behind Geno Auriemma and Summitt.
VanDerveer had many great teams between titles, including the ones led by Candice Wiggins and the Ogwumike sisters, Nneka and Chiney, but the Cardinal just couldn’t end their season with that elusive win in the title game until Sunday night.
The last time a team from the Pac-12 Conference was in the title game was 2010 when the Cardinal lost to Connecticut. That game was also played in the Alamodome — the site of every game in this tournament from the Sweet 16 through Sunday’s championship game.
The entire NCAA tournament was played in the San Antonio area because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Stanford had history on its side, Arizona has been building under coach Adia Barnes, who was the fourth Black woman to lead her team to the championship game, joining Carolyn Peck, Dawn Staley and C. Vivian Stringer. Peck and Staley won titles.
Barnes starred for the Wildcats as a player in the late ‘90s and came back to her alma mater five years ago. She guided the team to the WNIT title in 2018 and led it to its first NCAA title game. This was the team’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2005 — although the Wildcats would have made the NCAAs last season had the tournament not been canceled by the coronavirus.
The Wildcats started the season No. 7 in the poll and moved up to as high as sixth — the best ranking in school history — for a few weeks.
McDonald, who followed her coach from Washington as a transfer, has been a huge reason for the team’s success. The 5-foot-6 guard, who is lightning quick, is one of the rare players who can make an impact on both ends of the court.
She struggled against the Cardinal, still finishing with 22 points.
The final minutes of Stanford’s NCAA title win over Arizona on Sunday.
McDonald got the Wildcats on the board hitting a three-pointer, but then Stanford scored the next 12 points. The Cardinal led 16-8 after one quarter.
Arizona got going in the second quarter and took a 21-20 lead before Stanford scored 11 straight points, highlighted by Lexie Hull’s four-point play. The Cardinal led 31-24 at the half. McDonald missed nine of 11 shots in the first half.
The Wildcats were trying to be only the fourth team to trail by double digits and win a championship.
These teams met twice during the regular season and Stanford rolled past Arizona both times, winning by double digits in each game.
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