SAN ANTONIO – Stanford grabbed a 29-year title drought to end a season that seemed uncertain at certain points during the coronavirus pandemic and won the NCAA women’s basketball championship with a narrow win on Sunday against Arizona (54:53).
Stanford led much of the game, starting the fourth quarter by 3 points. But Arizona security guard Aari McDonald, who had the most points by a player ahead of Sunday’s game, started beating Stanford’s defense, closing Arizona’s deficit with a rebound 3 minutes 35 seconds ahead of 1.
Stanford’s Haley Jones, whose game-winning shot helped the Cardinal defeat the top-ranked South Carolina in the Final Four and who led them by 17 points on Sunday, added a free throw to offer the Cardinal a pillow, but McDonald was hot. She came closer with a free throw and then had one last chance after Stanford flipped him under six seconds ahead of a shot clock injury.
Her last second jumper, a turnaround when she was inundated by three cardinal defenders, bounced off the rim after the time ran out and brought the cardinal the third title in program history.
The battle between the teams that led the Pac-12 conference and then overtook 62 others in the NCAA tournament reflected the unusual circumstances of the tournament itself. Traditional powers like number 1 UConn and South Carolina and number 2 Baylor watched the title game from afar, and the 64-man field promoted more teams that had a legitimate chance of winning it all. They played against the backdrop of the public health crisis and asked questions about the stature of women’s basketball in a competitive college sports industry. Nevertheless, Stanford was considered one of the top teams in the sport and consolidated this claim with its championship.
“We’re excited to win the Covid Championship,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer in an interview on ESPN after the game.
The title game brought together Pac-12 rivals for the first time. It also featured one of the few black coaches to ever make the title game in a sport in which more than 40 percent of the players are black. The tournament itself is a three-week gold mine that takes place concurrently with the NCAA men’s tournament that should end Monday eveningbecame a forum for discussions about the Inequalities between college sports for men and women.
It all happened in front of a crowd made up of equal parts cardboard clippings and people wearing masks in the midst of a pandemic that sparked most of the major personal events in the past year.
The win was Stanford’s first national title since 1992 – all of which were won with VanDerveer, who began coaching the Cardinal in 1985 and became the most successful coach in the history of women’s college basketball Season. In keeping with the ambience of the pandemic, she celebrated putting longtime Tennessee coach Pat Summitt on the list of career victories with just her team and staff in a practically barren stadium 80 miles northeast of Stanford’s campus, while local health restrictions prohibited them from doing so To play at home.
The tournament in San Antonio to contain the spread of the coronavirus wasn’t easy for Stanford even before the last game. It was almost knocked out by Louisville in the round of 16 and South Carolina in the last four.
But Stanford had much more to contend with that season, living nomadic for more than two months, while Santa Clara County, California banned contact sports in November. The cardinal began practicing in Las Vegas, living in hotels, and playing home games in the beach town of Santa Cruz, a 45-mile hike down a winding road – worlds away from Silicon Valley school.
“I don’t think any other team in this tournament had to live on a suitcase and hotel for 10 weeks during the season,” Stanford’s Kiana Williams, a senior guard based in San Antonio, said in a post-game interview. “We had to do that because we wanted to play so badly.”
When they were able to play in their home arena again in February, the athletes were isolated in their apartments on the edge of their training facilities. They took virtual classes and video chats with loved ones to connect with people outside of their sports bubble.
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The cardinal connected through the strange shared experience As a result, they mainly played opponents in the conference and won both the Pac-12 tournament and the regular season title. VanDerveer told reporters ahead of the game that the conference’s strength warmed them up for the national stage. The league had four top 25 schools shortly before the tournament.
“When we played in the Pac-12, we got better when they got better,” VanDerveer said in a post-game interview.
Stanford defeated Arizona twice that season and won the regular season title in January with 27 points and 14 points. Through previous matchups and lessons from Arizona’s tournament run, Stanford determined that the key to victory was repression MC Donaldwho led their team to the final with 26 points against UConn in the national semi-finals This was their 93rd straight double-digit game, the longest active streak in women’s college basketball. Elderly Redshirt Anna Wilson, younger sister of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and freshman Cameron Brink had her banned from key parts of the game.
McDonald, Pac-12 Player of the Year, fought her way through Stanford’s defense, scoring 22 points from 5 out of 20 shots from the field and 4 out of 9 from 3-point range.
“Aari is without a doubt the best player in Arizona history,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes in a post-game interview.
The matchup with Arizona was the first time that two Pac-12 teams faced each other in the final. Of six in-conference championships for the national title, three were between teams in the Southeastern Conference, two in the Big East and one in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The last time the Cardinal played in the national championship – at the Alamodome in 2010 when UConn fell – was the last time a Pac-12 team did the same. At the time, the league was still the Pac-10, and Stanford was largely the national face of it. Since welcoming the University of Utah and the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2011, Pac-12 teams have become a staple of the Final Four, with performances from Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford Women developed.
“It means the Pac-12 is the best conference in the country,” said Barnes. “Start paying attention,” she added, “we have some of the best players in the country.”
Barnes, meanwhile, struggled to become the third black coach to win the NCAA title. She is one of five black women who trained in the Women’s Final Four, following in the footsteps of C. Vivian Stringer, Carolyn Peck, Pokey Chatman and Dawn Staley. The national semifinals this year marked the first time that two black head coaches led teams at the same time.
“We came into one basket to win a national championship,” said Barnes. “I am proud.”
This win marks an end to the teams’ stay in San Antonio, a controlled environment that provides a clear view of the differences between the men’s and women’s tournaments.
That was also brought into focus by the virus.
VanDerveer said in an interview on Thursday that she didn’t believe that sporting inequalities would have come into the spotlight without that Double tournaments that reveal differences in accommodations like coronavirus testing and facilities for the athletes.
“Covid has tightened everything,” VanDerveer said in an interview with the New York Times on Thursday. “It challenged us in ways that we really may not have been prepared for.”