It’s a pair of Pac-12 programs that remain in the Women’s national championship game this Sunday. Will Arizona or Stanford be the last team standing?
TV schedule: Sunday, April 4th, 6:00 pm ET. ESPN
Arena: The Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas
The Pac-12 has done well in both the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Tournaments this year. The UCLA Bruins made a miracle run to the Final Four on the men’s side, while both Stanford and Arizona did so on the women’s side. But when it came to both the Cardinal and Wildcats to this point, they were both supposed to lose.
Stanford was the No. 1 overall seed but went up against another 1 seed in South Carolina, which has one of the most imposing defenses in the country. It looked that way early on in their semifinal matchup, with the Gamecocks gaining the edge. But Haley Jones of the Cardinal nailed some shots early on to allow the better offensive team to get back into it. She was fantastic the entire game for Stanford, scoring 24 points on 11/14 shooting.
Jones and Lexie Hull (18 points and 13 rebounds) were the stars for the Cardinal, who led for a good portion of the second half before the Gamecocks came back and nearly won the game at the final seconds, before Stanford held on to win, 66-65. They held the Gamecocks to 36% shooting from the field and held their own on the boards.
That was a minor upset to neutral observers but in the other semifinal game, all predictions were towards UConn over Arizona, the lone team in the Final Four not a 1 seed. However, the underdog Wildcats punched the favorites right in the mouth early on, gaining a double-digit lead thanks to 15 early points from All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year Aari McDonald.
Stanford led somewhere between 8-12 points throughout nearly the entire game, as we waited for Paige Bueckers and the Huskies to make a furious comeback to make the game close. However, Arizona’s physical and sound defense proved to be too much for UConn to overcome, winning by a final margin of 69-59. McDonald finished with a game-high 26 points, including a couple of clutch late baskets to keep the favorites at bay.
The pregame spread was UConn by 14 points, making this one of the biggest upsets in the Women’s Final Four history. It’s also the first title game appearance for the program, that has overcome plenty to get to this point.
Usually, we would have to speculate what a matchup would look like in the title game between two opponents. But we’ve already seen Stanford and Arizona face off this season, with the Wildcats winning both games by a combined margin of 41 points. McDonald was held to poor performances in both games by her lofty standards and when she struggles, the team struggles as well. Arizona shot a combined 11/46 from three-point range, which isn’t going to cut it.
Stanford has the edge on paper, with better balance both inside and out and already with a level of familiarity on how to guard superstar guard McDonald. There’s also a risk of an emotional letdown from the Wildcats after the big upset of UConn.
The first quarter will decide how this game goes. If Arizona can jump out to another lead and gain control led by McDonald, they’ll have a real shot to avoid a third loss to the same team. However, Stanford was able to beat South Carolina without key players playing well and the confidence of previously beating the Wildcats will serve them well to get a national title.
Prediction: Stanford 75, Arizona 64