Once again, depth ruled the women's NCAA Tournament.
In a game of runs, lockdown defense and turnovers, Stanford came out on top, 54-53. Arizona’s Aari McDonald, who became the new darling of women’s basketball throughout the Wildcats’ run, missed a heave at the buzzer.
Stanford won its first national championship since 1992, the third of coach Tara VanDerveer’s career.
The Cardinal, the deepest team in women’s college basketball this season, got big contributions from each of its starters — everyone scored at least five points and grabbed at least two rebounds — led by Haley Jones’ 17. Jones also grabbed eight rebounds. Senior guard Lexie Hull had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and freshman forward Cameron Brink 10 points, four rebounds. And Ashten Prechtel, who was huge for Stanford this tournament, came off the bench to score seven points and grab eight rebounds.
Stanford guard Kiana Williams (23) and Haley Jones celebrated after winning the national championship Sunday. (Photo: Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)
But the real story of the game came in the rebounding column, where Stanford dominated 47-29. It also turned nine offensive boards into 11 second-chance points, which kept Stanford in front; Arizona, by comparison, had just no second-chance points. That stat was especially helpful to the Cardinal in the first half, when it gave the ball away 10 times.
And even as the Cardinal continued to give the ball away — Stanford finished with 21 — Arizona could never capitalize, scoring just 12 points off those turnovers.
Part of that had to do with how tough Stanford made it on McDonald, a theme this season in Pac-12 play.
In two previous games against Stanford this season, McDonald had combined to shoot 11 of 42 from the field and 1 of 12 from three. She continued to struggle Sunday, shooting 5 of 20 and 4 of 9 from three.
But she willed Arizona back into the game in the fourth quarter to give the Wildcats a chance, sparking a 7-0 run and hitting a three with 3:35 left to bring Arizona within one, 51-50. But her jump shot on the next possession — which would have given Arizona its first lead of the second half — was off.
McDonald was hounded all night, mostly by Stanford's Anna Wilson (McDonald and Wilson were co-defensive players of the year in the conference) and Hull.
In the final minute, McDonald hit 3-of-4 free throws to give Arizona a chance to win with six seconds to go. But Stanford trapped her, and McDonald couldn’t find space to knock down a shot. Her look was decent, but as it bounced off, she fell to the floor, exhausted and heartbroken.
It was the first ever meeting of Pac-12 teams in the national championship game.
Follow reporter Lindsay Schnell on Twitter @LindsaySchnell
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