Photo Credit: Arizona Athletics
March Madness has belonged to the Pac-12.
Not only has the “Conference of Champions” dominated the men’s side of the NCAA Tournament, but the women have shown out big time as well. It’s not the mighty Connecticut Huskies in the title game, it’s not the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it’s not the Baylor Lady Bears, it’s not the Louisville Cardinals, and it’s not the South Carolina Gamecocks. All typical powers in women’s basketball.
Instead, it’s a little different type of matchup.
For the first time in NCAA history, two Pac-12 institutions will play for the national title.
One was supposed to be there, one was not.
The No. 1 overall seed Stanford Cardinal (30-2, 19-2 Pac-12), led by the winniest coach in Division I Women’s College Basketball Tara VanDerveer, will face off against No. 3 seed Arizona (21-5, 13-4 Pac-12), who have surprised many to squeak their way into their first national championship.
Game Day Information
When: Sunday, Apr. 4, 6:00 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
PXP: Ryan Ruocco
Analyst: Rebecca Lobo
Sideline Reporters: LaChina Robinson, Holly Rowe
Line: Stanford -7.5
Searching For Number Three
The Stanford Cardinal are right where they’re supposed to be. As the aforementioned No. 1 overall seed coming into the 2021 NCAA tournament, it’s no surprise to see VanDerveer’s team back in the national championship for the first time since 2010, as they’ll be seeking their first national title since 1992. It would be the third under VanDerveer’s guidance in her 35 years as head coach.
It’s been quite a journey to get here for Stanford, as the Cardinal breezed through the Pac-12 tournament, winning their 14th conference title.
They then proceeded to carry that momentum into the San Antonio bubble. They demolished Utah Valley, took care of Oklahoma State, destroyed Missouri State, and controlled the tempo vs. another national powerhouse in No. 2 seed Louisville.
They then reached the Final Four, where they were involved in an absolute classic with fellow No. 1 seed South Carolina. The Gamecocks missed what would be a game-winning tip in at the buzzer to give Stanford a 66-65 win. It was a game that’ll forever be remembered in women’s basketball history.
The Cardinal are led by San Antonio native Kiana Williams, who is the team’s leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, running the show up top for Stanford. Haley Jones (13.1 ppg) and Lexie Hull (11.6 ppg) also average in double figures for the Cardinal. With Jones serving as a massive threat down low averaging 7.4 rebounds a game.
That core will need to perform big time if Stanford is to take home their first national championship in 29 seasons.
A Remarkable Turnaround
The Arizona Wildcats aren’t supposed to be here, but here they are on this Easter Sunday.
Adia Barnes’ squad may have endured one of the quickest turnarounds that women’s basketball has ever seen, as the Wildcat’s had never even made it past the Elite Eight in their program history coming into this tournament.
That’s not all, just a few seasons ago, Barnes coached a 6-24 Arizona team that found themselves finishing 11th in the conference. Three years later, the Wildcats are in the national championship game.
It’s incredibly impressive considering that women’s basketball is always a game where the top few spots seem reserved for those national powers that were mentioned earlier on.
It was no fluke either how Arizona, who lost in the semifinals in the Pac-12 tournament, found their way into the national championship. There were no gimmes.
The Wildcats took down No. 14 seed Stony Brook, 79-44 to open up the NCAA Tournament. They followed that up with a narrow win over No. 11 seed BYU, a destruction of No. 2 seed and SEC Regular Season Champion Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, and a victory over No. 4 seed Indiana in the Elite Eight.
That’s when Arizona caught the nation’s eye, as the Wildcats heavily subdued No. 1 seed and ever-present UConn in the national semifinal, advancing to the national title game.
That result wouldn’t be without the efforts of star guard Aarion McDonald, who leads the team in scoring at 20.5 points per game, and put up 33 in the win over the Huskies.
Cate Reese (11.2 ppg) and Virginia Tech transfer Trinity Baptiste (8.6 ppg) also provide a solid 1-2 punch down low for the Wildcats. As Baptiste is the leader on the glass averaging 6.2 rebounds per contest.
It’ll be a tall task for Arizona to win one final game to complete their magical run. But they’ve shown in past rounds, this team will not be denied.
It’s easy to say that Stanford is the better team, has the better coach, and has a better roster. Because that’s true. The Cardinal took care of the Wildcats twice this season by a combined 41 points.
They can suffocate a team defensively and hit a shot whenever they so choose. They’re really good.
However, playing well at the right time is what makes March Madness the magic it really is. Stanford may be the better team, but they won’t win tonight.
Yes, the Arizona Wildcats will take down the No. 1 overall seed and win their first national championship in program history.
Prediction: (3) Arizona 73, (1) Stanford 64