On Friday night in San Antonio, the Women’s Final Four returned for the first time in two years, and the action did not disappoint. In the first game of the evening, Stanford won a one-point thriller over South Carolina, and in the second game of the doubleheader, Arizona stunned UConn with a brilliant defensive performance.
Now, the two Pac-12 rivals will meet on Sunday evening in the national championship. The Cardinal are looking for their third title in school history, and their first since 1992. Arizona, meanwhile, had never gotten past the Sweet Sixteen before this year, and are looking for their first title.
Ahead of tip-off, here’s everything you need to know:
Date: Sunday, April 4 | Time: 6 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Odds: STAN (-9) | STAN -475 | ARIZ +360
(Odds via William Hill Sportsbook)
How they got here:
Despite having to spend nine weeks on the road in the middle of the season due to COVID-19 regulations in their home county in California, Stanford was arguably the best team in college basketball all season long. They went 25-2 in the regular season and won the Pac-12 Tournament, which earned them the top overall seed in the entire tournament.
In the tournament they had little trouble until Friday night, when they just barely escaped with a one-point win over South Carolina in the Final Four.
First Round: Stanford 87 — Utah Valley 44
Second Round: Stanford 73 — Oklahoma State 62
Sweet 16: Stanford 89 — Missouri State 62
Elite Eight: Stanford 78 — Louisville 63
Final Four: Stanford 66 — South Carolina 65
One stat to know:
One of the major reasons for Stanford’s success this season is that they’re an elite 3-point shooting team, knocking down 38.6 percent of their attempts, which ranks sixth in the entire country. Even more impressive is that it’s not just a one or two-woman attack. Save for Fran Belibi, who has only attempted one triple all season long, every single player on the Cardinal roster with at least 200 minutes played is shooting 35 percent of better from deep.
When almost everyone on the court is a threat to knock down a shot from the outside, it makes things extremely difficult on the opposing defense, and shutting down Stanford’s 3-point attack is going to be a big test for Arizona. Especially considering that Stanford has already set the record for most 3s in a tournament with 55.
One player to watch:
Stanford’s senior point guard, who is looking to win the national title in her hometown of San Antonio, has been the team’s leader all season long. But over the last two games, Williams has struggled. She did hit a couple big shots in the second half of their win over Louisville, but she’s still only managed a combined 22 points, eight assists and four rebounds on 10 of 34 from the field in the Elite Eight and Final Four.
While the Cardinal have managed to advance without Williams at her best, it’s hard to keep winning this deep in the tournament without big games from your leading scorer. And if Stanford want to cut down the nets, they’ll likely need Williams to step up. Whether or not she’ll be able to do so against the tough perimeter defense of Aari McDonald and Co., however, remains to be seen. Williams didn’t exactly light it up in the regular season games against Arizona, averaging 10 points and three assists on 35 percent shooting.
How they got here:
Like most teams, Arizona’s season was affected by COVID-19, and as a result they only ended up playing 21 regular season games. They went 16-5, with two of those losses coming to Stanford, and earned a No. 3 seed in the tournament — their first appearance since back in 2005.
Before this year, they only had six tournament appearances in school history, and had never been past the Sweet Sixteen. You wouldn’t know it by how they’ve played over the last few weeks, however, as they’ve won all but one game by double-digits en route to the the title game.
First Round: Arizona 79 — Stony Brook 44
Second Round: Arizona 52 — BYU 46
Sweet Sixteen: Arizona 74 — Texas A&M 59
Elite Eight: Arizona 66 — Indiana 53
Final Four: Arizona 69 — UConn 59
One stat to know:
The Wildcats were one of the better defensive teams all season long, and in the tournament they’ve turned things up a notch. No one has figured out how to score against them on a consistent basis, not even UConn, one of the best offensive teams in the nation. So far in the tournament, Arizona has allowed just 78.7 points per 100 possessions, which is the best defensive rating of any team that qualified.
Leading the way at the point of attack is Aari McDonald, the two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball. She has the ability to take the other team’s best player completely out of the game, and her teammates take care of the rest. They rebound the ball well and hound opponents into turnovers. So far in the tournament, their opponent turnover percentage is 21.4 percent, and it’s really hard to score when you don’t even get a shot up on more than one-fifth of your possessions.
One player to know:
This one is obvious. McDonald has been the best player in the tournament so far, and has been getting it done on both ends of the floor. She’s putting up 25.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 steals per game on this run to the championship, all while shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 48.6 percent from 3-point land — stunning numbers for a player who was a career 28.4 percent shooter from downtown.
Like any true star, she’s stepped up when it’s mattered most. She put up 31 points in their Sweet Sixteen win over Texas A&M, 33 points in their Elite Eight win over Indiana and 26 points in the Final Four win over UConn. For the season, those are her first, second and sixth highest scoring games. If the Wildcats want to pull the upset on Sunday, they’ll need one more heroic game from McDonald.
Stanford vs. Arizona: NCAA Tournament championship predictions for women’s final
If you haven’t been following the women’s NCAA Tournament until Sunday, when you tune in for the championship game, you may be surprised at which teams are on the floor.
Sure, there’s overall No. 1 Stanford, led by all-time winningest women’s coach Tara VanDerveer and a slew of offensive talent, anchored by Haley Jones and Kiana Williams.
Then there’s … Arizona? Yes, the No. 3 seed Wildcats have created an uproar, knocking off No. 2 Texas A&M, No. 4 Indiana and No. 1 Connecticut to earn their first chance at a championship. And Aari McDonald & Co. have a chip on their shoulder, especially after the NCAA snubbed them in the original Final Four video.
ARIZONA AND STANFORD:Battle in first all Pac-12 NCAA women’s basketball championship game
Stanford is pursuing its third national title under VanDerveer, who guided the Cardinal to titles in 1990 and 1992.
Nancy Armour: Everything tells me to pick Stanford. Overall No. 1 seed. Haley Jones, Kiana Williams and Anna Wilson. That nasty defense. And yet … Arizona is playing with house money at this point, and that makes the Wildcats extremely dangerous. It’s also really tough to beat a team three times in one season, and Stanford won both regular-season matchups. Also, who would be foolish enough to bet against Aari McDonald anymore? Arizona 63, Stanford 60
Ellen Horrow: The first two meetings between Stanford and Arizona this season were one-sided, with Stanford routing the Wildcats at home and in Tucson. But that was then, and this is now. And this is a decidedly different Arizona team, with senior guard Aari McDonald dazzling all tournament offensively and defensively and her teammates stepping up time after time with crucial buckets. The Arizona defense has been outstanding — especially against Connecticut in the semifinals — and the Wildcats will need another stellar defensive performance to stop a Stanford team with a lot of weapons. And it is that depth that will cause problems for Arizona with Kiana Williams, Lexie Hull, Haley Jones and Cameron Brink able to spread the scoring load for the Cardinal. McDonald should have another fabulous game, but the Cardinal’s balanced attack will win the day. Stanford 70, Arizona 62
Lindsay Schnell: The Cardinal has been my title pick since December, and I see no reason to change that now. Stanford is too long, too deep and too talented to be beat — though I believe Arizona will give the Cardinal a game. In the end, the Stanford mismatches catch up with everyone. Kiana Williams has been dreaming of leading her team to a title in her hometown for three years, and she’s due for a big game. Cardinal freshman forward Cameron Brink will be key, too. Arizona’s Aari McDonald already has busted pretty much everyone’s bracket, though, so truly anything could happen. Stanford, 84-73
Heather Tucker: Success in the NCAA Tournament often is predicated on getting hot at the right time, and that is what Arizona has done. The underdog has been overlooked — including by Connecticut, to its demise — and will have momentum on its side. Aari McDonald will get her points, but Stanford’s Haley Jones, Kiana Williams and Anna Wilson will be too much for the Wildcats to overcome. Stanford, 77-70.