Stanford, Arizona meet in all-Pac-12 NCAA title game
4/3/2021 4:52:05 PM EST
Stanford has one more assignment left to complete a championship season: beat a familiar opponent for the third time this season.
The top-seeded Cardinal play upstart and third-seeded Arizona in the NCAA championship game on Sunday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, making it an all-Pac-12 final for the first time. It's also the first championship game featuring two schools west of the Mississippi River since 1986.
Stanford weathered top-seeded South Carolina's bid for a comeback victory, surviving two shots in the final seconds for a 66-65 victory in Friday's first semifinal. Then, Arizona pulled a surprise by knocking off top-seeded UConn, 69-59, in the second semifinal in a game in which the Wildcats never trailed.
Arizona (21-5) had never been to the Final Four, while Stanford is in the title game for the first time since 2010 when it lost to UConn.
"I don't have any skeletons in the closet or ghosts," veteran Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "This is a team that has confidence in themselves."
VanDerveer has directed the Cardinal to two national championships, though the last one came in 1992. Stanford is in its fifth title game overall.
VanDerveer described the semifinal win as "one of those survive and advance" situations.
The Cardinal (30-2) won 81-54 at Arizona on New Year's Day and then claimed the rematch by winning 62-48 on Feb. 22 at home. Since that second meeting, Stanford has had only two games with closer final margins in its last nine games.
Both Stanford and Arizona have banked on defense.
That was on full display for the Wildcats against UConn. Arizona clamped down on the Huskies' playmakers, holding UConn to a season-low point total. Through three quarters, UConn had 39 points, which marked the Huskies' fewest point total since quarters were implemented in 2015-16 season.
It was all worth it.
"To actually make it here with beating UConn, it couldn't be any better," said Arizona forward Sam Thomas, who finished with 12 points.
Arizona is under the direction of fifth-year coach Adia Barnes, who leads the program in career scoring.
Guard Aari McDonald, who scored a game-high 26 against the Huskies, averages 20.5 points per game, with Cate Reese serving as the only other player on the team who averages double-figures at 11.2.
Kiana Williams tops Stanford in scoring with 14.3 points per game and Haley Jones, who made the go-ahead basket against South Carolina and finished with 24, is next at 13.1. Williams is Stanford's all-time leader in made 3-pointers.
Stanford, which shot 5-for-8 on 3-point attempts against South Carolina, holds the NCAA Tournament record for 3s by already making 55 during its first five games.
There will be some star power expected in the stands. Stanford guard Anna Wilson is the younger sister of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who has attended tournament games in San Antonio. Anna Wilson has started all 32 games and is averaging 4.6 points per game, though she was scoreless in the semifinal.
Stanford won the Pac-12 tournament in early March, while Arizona lost in the semifinals to UCLA.
--Field Level Media
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