Women's Tournament 2021: Final Four Scores, Championship PreviewApril 3, 2021
It'll be an all-Pac 12 matchup for the first time in the history of the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament final as No. 1 seed Stanford will take on No. 3 Arizona.
Stanford held on for dear life to win 66-65 in a hard-fought Final Four game over No. 1 South Carolina, which missed two potential game-winning buckets in the final couple seconds. Haley Jones' 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting led Stanford.
Arizona then stunned UConn 69-59 behind another phenomenal performance from Aari McDonald (26 points) and fantastic team defense that held the Huskies to just 35.7 percent shooting. The Wildcats led wire-to-wire.
Now Stanford and Arizona will face off on Sunday in the national championship. Stanford is looking for its third national title, while Arizona is shooting for its first.
Here's a look at how the two teams' previous matchups went down alongside three reasons for why each team can win this one. You can also find a score prediction at the end.
Stanford beat Arizona in both of their regular-season matchups, and neither game was particularly close.
The Cardinal opened a 44-20 halftime lead before winning 81-54 in the first meeting, with Jones posting an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double. Arizona shot just 25.8 percent from the field, with McDonald going 3-of-18.
The second game was a far closer affair, but Stanford still led wire-to-wire in the second half in a 62-48 win. Four Cardinal players scored in double digits, with Lacie Hull's 16 points paving the way.
McDonald led all scorers with 20 points but needed 24 shots to get there. The Wildcats made just 17-of-55 field goals (30.9 percent).
Why Arizona Can Win
The Wildcats shot 34-of-121 (28.1 percent) over the pair of Stanford losses.
Stanford is an excellent team with a 33.0 percent field goal defense rate, but Arizona is a far better shooting team that what it showed against the Cardinal.
The Wildcats began the Final Four making 41.3 percent of their field goals, and the guess here is that they won't be held around the 30-percent range for a third time.
Arizona's defense has been sensational, as best evidenced by its performance against UConn. The Wildcats have held their five tournament opponents to an average of 52.2 points per game on 96-of-261 shooting (36.8 percent).
Arizona set that defensive tone in the first round against Stony Brook, forcing the Seawolves to commit 25 turnovers. Overall, Arizona's tournament opponents have committed 80 turnovers.
That's largely because of the dynamic defensive duo of McDonald and Sam Thomas, who have combined for 29 steals and seven blocks. McDonald is the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and Thomas was Pac-12 All-Defense in 2020.
Obviously. McDonald put UConn on its heels with hot shooting in the first half, scoring 15 of Arizona's 32 first-half points in a low-scoring affair. She was 4-of-6 from three-point range at one point and ended up with more buckets from downtown than the entire UConn team.
It's been the McDonald show this entire tournament, though. Her 32-point, 11-rebound performance in a 66-53 win over Indiana put Arizona in the Final Four.
That followed a 31-point outing against a Texas A&M team that could have arguably had a No. 1 seed but fell on the No. 2 line. McDonald's effort guided Arizona to a 74-59 win.
A 17-point, 11-rebound, four-steal performance in a 52-46 win over BYU followed a 20-point afternoon versus Stony Brook.
McDonald is simply relentless and can never be counted out. If she gets the three-point shot going, watch out.
Why Stanford Can Win
An obvious answer here, but Stanford has gotten the job done against Arizona twice before. The Cardinal led by double digits for the entire second half in the first game and the whole fourth quarter in the second matchup.
Their defense was relentless, and their scoring depth helped too. Four players scored in double digits during each contest.
Granted, a pair of strong Stanford wins doesn't guarantee an automatic victory for the Cardinal, but their performances could be harbingers of what's to come.
It's pick your poison when playing this Stanford team. Five players score 7.6 points or more per game, with four posting 9.9 PPG at minimum. If one player has an off-night, another one could be going off and ruining the opposition's evening.
That's more or less what happened in the Final Four against South Carolina. Lexie Hull (third in scoring) had an off-night shooting (4-of-17), but Jones was excellent.
However, Hull was the star in the Elite Eight against Louisville, scoring a team-high 21 points. Before that round, Hannah Jump splashed five three-pointers against Missouri State in the Sweet 16.
The bottom line is that this deep rotation is relentless, and it can cause problems even for an elite defensive team like Arizona.
Stanford makes nearly nine three-pointers per game, and its 286 makes on the year places the Cardinal fourth in all of Division I. The Cardinal are also sixth in three-point percentage (38.6).
Guard Kiana Williams leads the way with 81 makes, and Hannah Jump (57) and Lexie Hull (44) buoy her efforts.
Stanford simply buries teams from three, making 10 or more on 12 different occasions. Breaking that down further, Stanford has made 13 shots from beyond the arc seven times.
If the Cardinal get hot from deep on Monday, then Arizona may be forced into a track meet where McDonald and Co. have to match them. That's advantage, Stanford.
Arizona will come into this game as the clear underdog even if the Wildcats are coming off a fantastic win over a pre-tournament favorite in UConn. Simply put, Stanford has had the better season and beat Arizona twice by a combined 41 points.
However, this game should be a lot closer. Arizona isn't nearly as poor of a shooting team as it showed against Stanford earlier this season, and its defense should be able to keep the Cardinal within arm's length.
Plus, there's a scenario where McDonald becomes invincible and goes for 30-plus points an 10-plus rebounds while contributing elite defense. If that happens, Stanford is obviously in trouble.
The No. 1 overall seed will also find itself with problems if it goes cold from three. The Cardinals have lost two games this season (back-to-back to UCLA and Colorado), and it's no coincidence that the team shot a combined 7-of-32 from beyond the arc against the conference foes.
The formula for Arizona is to slow this game down a bit, play excellent defense, defend the three and hope McDonald produces some more magic.
The guess here is that happens. Yes, Stanford's offense can be relentless, and there's a scenario where the Cardinal just bury the Wildcats from three. A number of players could get hot from deep and give Arizona problems. Jones could also take this game over in the post herself, much like she did against South Carolina.
However, Arizona is fearless, relentless and playing fantastic ball. The Wildcats are the pick.
Pick: Arizona 63, Stanford 62