After one of the craziest years in college basketball history, Stanford stands alone as champions.
Months of blood, sweat and quarantines culminated in an amazing performance from both Stanford and Arizona on Sunday night, (something that cannot be said for the Men’s final last night). The storylines are abundant and stretch decades prior to this season, and The Next‘s Alex Simon does an excellent job breaking down the history that led Tara VanDerveer to this moment.
As for the game itself, we got a little bit of everything. Stanford shot out to an early lead, with tenacious defense in the first quarter that made me question whether Arizona had left it all on the court in the semifinal against UConn.
Atypical of previous tournament games, it was not Aari McDonald who led the initial comeback charge. Scoring contributions from Shaina Pellington and Cate Reese in the second quarter brought the Wildcats within 7 at halftime.
For the Cardinal, it was the same cast of characters leading the way. Haley Jones finished with 17 points and 8 boards in her always efficient way, and freshman Cameron Brink continued to show she was ready for the spotlight with 10 points of her own. Kiana Williams was the only surprise, as she had a few uncharacteristic turnovers that led to free points for Arizona.
Bendu Yeaney was a major factor in forcing Cardinal turnovers, with five steals including three possessions in a row to keep the game close going into the fourth quarter.
Jones was the driving force once again for Stanford, but it was time for the Aari McDonald takeover. First a three point dagger and then her ability to get to the free throw line cut the deficit to one with 30 seconds left. Arizona was then able to force a turnover that ensured they would get a chance at one final shot.
Of course it would be McDonald to take the three, and despite a triple-teamed awkward release, the shot still had a chance, bouncing off the rim to give Stanford a 54-53 championship win.
The number one team in the country, the Cardinal were a deep, well-coached squad that had all the pieces to win a title. As for Arizona, this is just the beginning for Adia Barnes and the Wildcat program. Aari McDonald’s effort and leadership will never be forgotten, but the future of Arizona basketball is in good hands.
It is an even more incredible feat for a team that spent 10 weeks on the road during the season, so congratulations to the 2021 National Champion Stanford Cardinal.