NCAA / U Sports

Preview: Arizona and Stanford head to NCAA championship

Left: Haley Jones (ESPN), Right: Aari McDonald (Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)

Arizona came into the tournament as underdogs, but as their momentum and defence overpowered UConn, they will go against No. 1 Stanford in the NCAA championship.

The two teams will step onto the court to fight for the NCAA title on Sunday at 6 p.m. EST on ESPN and TSN5.

The last time the Stanford Cardinal was in the Final Four was back in 2017 under current coach Tara VanDerveer. The team has been under her guidance since 1985 and she is the most winningest coach in NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball history with 1,123 career wins. 

Named 2021 Werner Ladder Naismith Coach of the Year, VanDerveer has her sights set on another NCAA title. 

Stanford has not won a title since 1992, but their grit and toughness against South Carolina showcased why they earned their ticket to the championship round. Edging out the Gamecocks by one point, their victory was a team effort and there were multiple players stepping up to maintain control on the court. 

Sophomore Guard Hayley Jones ended the night with 24 points, hitting the game winning shot that gave them the lead with seconds left on the clock. 

“…We just knew our original play was for Lexie to get it, she had a great drive and then I just saw the ball bouncing around and luckily my teammates were hitting some bodies to open it up and I just let it fly…” Jones noted in a courtside interview.  

Not to be overlooked, junior guard Lexie Hull had another successful night on the court with 18 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. Another key player who was critical in Stanford’s win was freshman forward, Cameron Brink; towering at 6-4, she registered six blocks against the Gamecocks

The Cardinal is clearly able to dominate utilizing multiple players on their team who can make key plays when they are needed the most. Even with stars Jones and Hull being able to put up double-digit points, will it be enough against the Arizona Wildcats defence? 

The Arizona Wildcats were deemed the underdogs from the beginning, but their consistent, dominant defence throughout the entire tournament is what resulted in their tournament success.

In their Final Four match against UConn, the Wildcats expressed their dominance early on, as well as their strong defensive plays and double team efforts against Paige Bueckers, allowing themselves to consistently stay ahead the entire game. 

The Wildcats were draining three pointers, preventing UConn from developing any momentum which resulted in more fuel to the Wildcats raging inferno.

At the half, senior guard Aari McDonald had 15 points and continued to dominate on the floor in the second half registering a total of 26 points. 

As mentioned before, the Wildcats defence game is strong, and they are aware that it is their greatest strength. Stanford’s team has a few sources for points and the Wildcats will certainly need to keep those key players from finding a consistent rhythm. If the Wildcats are able to hold off those key players, they may just be able to seize their first championship title.

“Yeah, but it does help that we’ve played them,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes stated about going against Stanford in the final. “We’re familiar. So I think that’s definitely an advantage. Now we got to go out and do it on the court, which is the hard part.”

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