And then there were two

April 4, 2021
Today is the day we’ve all been waiting for: the NCAA women’s basketball championship. So before the 6 p.m. ET tip-off between Stanford and Arizona, here’s a look at how we got here, what this means for both teams and who will be the difference makers tonight.
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And then there were two
Source: NCAA Championships, GIPHY


“Honestly, Coach Barnes hates when I take threes on the first possession. But, I mean, she’s not going to tell me to stop shooting when I’m feeling it from downtown.”

— Arizona senior guard Aari McDonald (pronounced AIR-EE), who sunk a three on their first possession in Friday’s Final Four win. Something tells us head coach Adia Barnes would love to see it again today.

🏀 Flashback

Before we get to today’s game, let’s look back at Friday’s epic semis. As a heavy favorite to win the whole shebang, Stanford’s ticket to the final seemed like a lock...until they lost their lead to South Carolina with 41 seconds remaining.

  • However, Haley Jones nailed a jumper a few seconds later to put Stanford back in front and South Carolina missed their opportunities in the final seconds, leading to a 66–65 Cardinal win. Truly heartbreaking.

In the second semi, Paige Bueckers (pronounced BECKERS) and UConn were heavily favored to win the matchup, but underdog Arizona — making their first-ever Final Four appearance — had other plans. Arizona won 69–59, stunning UConn and basketball fans everywhere.

⛹️‍♀️ The finalists

The favorites: Following a 25-2 regular season record, many fans and analysts said March Madness was Stanford’s to lose. Three weeks later, those predictions still ring true.

  • Despite being unable to play in the comfort of their home stadium this year, Stanford won the Pac-12 Conference championship for the 14th (!!!) time, earning a bid to the NCAA tournament.

The underdogscats: After a 16-5 regular season, the Arizona Wildcats entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed in the Mercado region. They blew past a stacked No. 2 Texas A&M team in the Sweet Sixteen and spunky No. 4 Indiana in the Elite Eight, before Friday’s Final Four rout of UConn.

  • The Wildcats making the title game was so unexpected that they weren’t even included in the Final Four promo video. How rude. But don’t let that careless omission deceive you: this team is here to win.

⭐️ The difference makers

Haley Jones, Stanford: The Cardinal are in the championship because of Jones. Not just thanks to the last-minute points she scored in the semifinal game, but because of her dominant play throughout the tournament. She scored 24 points on just 14 shots on Friday night — her shooting percentage was nearly twice as good as her team’s.

Aari McDonald, Arizona: The Pac-12 Player of the Year and two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is also the top scorer of the tournament. In her attention-grabbing Final Four performance, she racked up 26 points and seven rebounds.

Coach Tara VanDerveer, Stanford: The winningest coach in women’s Division I basketball, VanDerveer is wrapping up her 35th season leading the Cardinal. A steadfast figure in the fight for equality, Coach V is looking for her third championship win and first since 1992.

Coach Adia Barnes, Arizona: The fifth-year coach is looking for her full circle moment. After playing for Arizona in the mid-90s, setting 22 school records and going on to win the 2004 WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm, Barnes returned to her alma mater to do what she couldn’t as a player: win the NCAA tournament.

🔑 The keys to winning

Stanford: The Cardinal need to score three-pointers. It’s as simple — and difficult — as that. They’ve already set the record for most three-pointers in a single tournament and, with Arizona’s tight defense around the rim, Stanford will be forced to pull back and shoot from downtown.

Arizona: The Wildcats’ defense stifled some of the tournament’s best offensive players in UConn’s Bueckers and Christyn Williams. They’ll need to repeat that performance to hold off Jones et al. and give themselves chances to score on the rebound.

🎉 The final

West-coasters, rejoice: Today’s game marks the first time two Pac-12 teams have met in the final. This is Stanford’s first championship game appearance since 2010, which isn’t terribly long considering this is Arizona’s first appearance period.

  • Stanford has the advantage here. Head-to-head, they beat Arizona twice in the regular season, and they have history on their side.
  • But Arizona is playing with a chip on their shoulder, and after being overlooked by the media for most of the tournament, let’s not forget that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

The game tips off at 6 p.m. ET on TSN5 in Canada and ESPN in the US (because heaven forbid a women’s national championship makes it to network television). Grab your #BetOnWomen apparel and tune in.