SAN ANTONIO (AP) – Haley Jones scored 17 points, and Stanford54-53, 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 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 before Arizona (21-6) cut it to 51-50 on star guard Aari McDonald‘s 3-pointer.
McDonald got the Wildcats 54-53 with 36.6 seconds left, converting three of four free throws. After a timeout, Jones answered with a three-point play with 2:24 left. That would be Stanford‘s last basket of the game.
TAfteranother timeout, the Cardinal couldn’t even get a shot off, giving Arizona one last chance with 6.1 seconds left, but McDonald’s contested shot from theoff the rim.
It’s been quite a journey for VanDerveer and the Cardinal this. The team was forced on the road for nearly 1tenweeks because of the coronavirus, spending 86 days in hotels during this nomadic season. The team didn’t complain and didbusiness; noww ; now another NCAA championship. Along the way, the Hall of Fame victory to pass Pat Summitt for the most all-time 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 for third-most all-time behind Geno Auriemma and Summitt.
VanDerveer had many great teams between titles, including those led by Candice Wiggins and the Ogwumike sisters – Nneka and Chiney. Still, the Cardinal couldn’t end their season with that elusive win in theuntil Sunday night. It was the first women’s basketball championship for the Pac-12 since VanDerveer and Stanford won it in 1992. The last time a team from the conference was in the was 2in 010 when the Cardinal lost to UConn. That game was also in the Alamodome – every game in this tournament from the Sweet 16 through Sunday’s championship game.
The entirewas played in San Antonio because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Stanford had history on its side, Arizona has been building under coach Adia Barnes, the fourth Black woman to lead her 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 it not been canceled by the coronavirus., 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 returned to her five years ago. She guided the team to the WNIT title in 2018 and led them to their first NCAA title
The Wildcats started the season at No. 7 in the poll and moved up to as high as sixth – the best ranking ever in school history -for a few weeks. McDonald, who followed her coach from Washington as a transfer, has been a massive reason for the team’s success. The 5-foot-6 guard, who is lightning quick, is one of the rare two-way players in the game who can impact both ends of the court.
She struggled against the Cardinal, finishing with 22 points.McDonald missed nine of her 11 shots in the first half.
McDonald got the Wildcats on the board, hitting a 3-pointer, but. The Cardinal led 16-8 after one quarter. Arizona got going in the second quarter and took a 21-20 , highlighted by Lexie Hull’s four-point play. The Cardinal led 31-24 at the half. The Wildcats tried to be the a championship. These teams met twice during the , and Stanford rolled past Arizona, winning by double digits in each game.
Sunday night’s game was the first with two teams from west of the Mississippi playing for a1986. … had the biggest comeback of any team in the NCAA title game, rallying from 15 down to win the 2018 title on a last-second shot by Arike Ogunbowale.
STRUGGLING AGAINST STANFORD
Barnes has beaten VanDerveer twice in her career as a player and coach at Arizona. As a coach, she had lost 10 of the 11 previous matchups before Sunday, with the only victory coming in overtime on Feb. 28, 2020. She lost seven of eight playing for the Wildcats in the late 90s. The lone victory came in her senior year on a last-second shot off a pass from Barnes to teammate Reshma Bristol, whoin 1998.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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