Top overall seed Stanford held off upset-minded Arizona 54-53 Sunday night to win the Cardinal’s first women’s NCAA basketball championship in 29 years and deliver a third title for its legendary coach, Tara VanDerveer.
Heading into Sunday’s women’s tournament finale, a team from the Pac-12—which calls itself the “Conference of Champions”—was guaranteed to cut down the nets. The question was whether it would be Stanford, the team that dominated despite a season of unprecedented disruption, or Arizona, the underdog that marked its first Final Four appearance with an upset of No. 1 seed UConn on Friday.
Stanford led for nearly all of Sunday’s contest, but their lead felt shaky in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Arizona’s senior playmaker Aari McDonald willed her team into contention and narrowed the deficit to one point with a massive 3-pointer and three free throws in the final minutes.
The fate of the game would ultimately rest in McDonald’s hands after Stanford squandered its last offensive possession on a shot clock violation with 6.1 seconds remaining. Arizona inbounded the basketball to McDonald and she let fly for one last 3-point attempt. Unlike so many that she had buried this tournament, it ricocheted off the rim.
No team had a harder path to San Antonio than Stanford, so it’s only fitting that the resilience the Cardinal learned during a disjointed regular season carried it all the way through the tournament.