Stanford produced a game-ending defensive stop for the second game in a row and captured its first NCAA championship in nearly three decades by defeating upstart Arizona 54-53 in the title game Sunday, April 4, at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
"It's a great team. We did not play a great game (in the final)," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "But if we can win, not playing as well as we need to, I'm excited."
Stanford bottled up Arizona's Aari McDonald on the last possession and she was unable to make a winning play coming out of a timeout in the waning seconds. Her desperation shot from beyond the top of the arc was off the mark.
Haley Jones racked up 17 points for Stanford, while Lexie Hull and Cameron Brink both posted 10 points. Hull had 10 rebounds.
Stanford won its third national championship under VanDerveer, but its first since 1992.
This was unique on numerous levels, not to mention Stanford was displaced from its home arena earlier in the season when events weren't permitted in that part of California amid the pandemic.
"Getting through all the things we got through, we're excited to win the COVID championship," VanDerveer said. .".. No one knows the score, no one knows who scored, it's a national championship and I'm so excited to represent Stanford."
The Cardinal (31-2) also won by one point in the semifinals Friday against South Carolina.
Jones was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
"I saw they needed me to come up big," Jones said.
McDonald finished with 22 points and reserve Shaina Pellington had 15 points for the Wildcats (21-6), who had never been to the Final Four. They play under fifth-year coach Adia Barnes, an alum.
"I'm just so proud of this team," Barnes said.
There just wasn't a storybook ending. The Wildcats inbounded the ball to McDonald in the frontcourt with 6.1 seconds to play.
"They sent three at me," she said. "I took a tough, contested shot and it didn't fall."
Stanford defeated Arizona by lopsided margins twice during the Pac-12 regular season, but this one never got out of hand. The Cardinal was held to a season-low point total in this game.
"They believe and that's all I can ask for with the team," Barnes said. "They play hard for me."
Stanford scored the first three baskets of the fourth quarter after a double-digit lead nearly vanished. But when Shaina Pellington converted a three-point play with 4:51 to play, Arizona was within 51-47.
Two more fruitless Stanford possessions came before McDonald's 3-pointer. McDonald missed on a potential go-ahead shot with slightly less than three minutes to play.
Jones countered with a three-point play. Other than that basket, the teams combined to miss five field-goal attempts in the last 3:20.
McDonald made a foul shot with a minute remaining and then sank two more at the 36-second mark, leaving the Wildcats trailing 54-53. They regained possession following a botched Stanford offensive set but didn't convert at the end.
Stanford added to its single-season NCAA Tournament record total of successful 3-pointers by going 4-for-14 and giving it 59 for the six games. It missed all six second-half attempts.
The Wildcats chopped a 10-point, third-quarter deficit to 43-40 entering the fourth quarter. Stanford scored only two points in the last 5:34 of the quarter.