The Stanford Cardinal women's basketball team had to overcome so much adversity this season in order to become this year's champions. Due to the Santa Clara County lockdown in California, teams were not allowed to play in their home arena until the end of January. The women's team were forced to play their home games early in the season in Santa Cruz.
Plus, there were three different postponements during the middle of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Also, the Cardinal endured possible consecutive buzzer-beater shots in the Final Four and the National Championship Game to finish as the tourney champs. Despite all of these different obstacles throughout the season, the Cardinal won their last 19 games in a row to finish 31-2.
Although the Pac-12 generally has been a solid conference over the years in women's college basketball, the last time the conference won the championship was Stanford way back in 1992. The stigma on the conference was that the Pac-12 was good, but not good enough. However, the West Coast defied that perception when Stanford defeated the Arizona Wildcats 54-53 in the final on Easter Sunday in San Antonio.
Both teams were viewed as being the underdogs in the Final Four. Stanford squeaked out a 66-65 victory over South Carolina, who was considered to be one of the favorites to win the entire tournament when the bracket was revealed. Arizona pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament by defeating perennial powerhouse UConn 69-59. UConn is the most dominant program in women's basketball history with 11 national championships, but they have not won one in five years.
During the regular season, Stanford and Arizona played against each other twice in conference play with Stanford winning both times rather easily with scores of 81-54 and 62-48. The start of this game appeared like the championship game would be smooth sailing for the Cardinal when they jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the middle of the first quarter.
However, Arizona stepped up their defense by only allowing Stanford to score one more basket in the first quarter. The Wildcats were able to put themselves back into the game by only being down 16-8 at the end of the quarter. Arizona then increased their defensive pressure and took a 21-20 lead in the middle of the second quarter. Nevertheless, Stanford went on a 11-3 run to close out the quarter with a 31-24 lead at intermission.
The third quarter was back-and-forth just like the other two quarters as Stanford jumped back out to a ten point lead in the middle of the third quarter. Arizona once again fought back with a 9-2 run to put themselves back in contention. At the end of the third quarter, Stanford was up 43-40.
The fourth quarter ended up being rather interesting because both teams only had two players score in the final frame. Stanford's advantage was in the interior. Forward Haley Jones scored seven points and center Cameron Brink scored four to put the Cardinal up 54-50 with around two minutes left in the game.
Arizona's advanage was along the perimeter. Wildcats guard Aari McDonald finally broke loose in the last quarter by scoring nine of her game-high 22 points in the fourth. Backup guard Shaina Pellington scored four of her 15 points in the fourth quarter and was also the main reason Arizona was even in this game at the end.
Arizona closed the score to 54-53 after McDonald made two free throws with 37 seconds remaining. Since the shot clock is 30 seconds, the Wildcats needed to make a stop. Their defense showed up as Stanford made a turnover with six seconds remaining on a shot clock violation.
On the final inbounds play with six seconds remaining, Arizona was able to get the ball to McDonald, but Stanford's initial defense forced her to get the ball near midcourt. McDonald attempted to drive towards the lane, but was impeded by three Stanford defenders. McDonald shot a turnaround fadeaway jumper, but it hit the back of the rim to give Stanford the close victory.
Jones ended up being the game's Most Outstanding Player after finishing with 17 points and 8 rebounds. Plus, she will be back along with the rest of Stanford's frontcourt so they will have a decent chance at repeating next season.
The Cardinal women celebrated their victory with a parade on Stanford's campus on Monday.
Image from Pixabay. Stats are from ESPN.com. Video from YouTube courtesy of ESPN.