For the first time since 1992, Stanford is cutting down the nets.
The Cardinal knocked off Arizona, 54–53, in Sunday’s women’s national championship game for their first title in nearly 30 years, winning a defensive battle against a Pac-12 rival to finally be crowned champions. Haley Jones led a balanced effort for Stanford with 17 points, and the Cardinal put up a defensive stand in the final seconds to seal the one-point victory.
The season’s first two meetings between these clubs weren’t all that close. Stanford won the first meeting back on New Year’s Day 81–54, blowing the Wildcats out on their home floor behind 18 points and 10 rebounds from Jones. The second meeting was closer, but the Cardinal kept Arizona at arms length in a 62–48 win in late February. But Arizona, which has played its best basketball of the season in this tournament, was ready this time, slowing a high-powered Stanford offense to hang in despite a cold shooting night for Aari McDonald.
Stanford started strong, getting out to a quick 14–3 lead less than five minutes in with baskets made by five different Cardinal scorers. But Arizona bounced back with its defense, holding Stanford to just six points in the next 10 minutes of game action to fight back and briefly claim a 21–20 lead. The Wildcats were able to hang in despite a cold shooting night from McDonald, whose play in the tournament has been stellar. McDonald shot just 2 for 10 from the field in the first half and 5 for 20 in the game, an inefficient night for the Wildcat star.
Stanford never trailed in the second half, holding off an Arizona team that refused to quit. The Cardinal extended a pair of double-digit leads in the third quarter, leading by as many as 11 early in the third before withstanding an 8–0 Arizona run that cut it back to three. Stanford responded with an 8–2 spurt of its own to regain control. Star freshman Cameron Brink was critical down the stretch, making multiple key defensive plays and scoring around the rim. She had 10 points and six rebounds in the game.
After going down by nine early in the fourth quarter, Arizona had one last push in it. The Wildcats locked in defensively and forced four turnovers in the final period, allowing them to get out in transition for easy buckets. A three by McDonald cut the Stanford lead to one with under three minutes to play, but Jones responded with a three-point play to go back up four.
That was the last field goal of the game —McDonald made three free throws out of four and the Wildcats got stops, setting up a final shot for the win for Arizona with six seconds to play. McDonald was always going to take that final shot in the closing moments, but Stanford defended it well and forced a deep turnaround jumper that clanged off the iron to clinch the title.
It’s the second national championship win for legendary head coach Tara VanDerveer, who has over 1,100 wins to her name. The Cardinal reached nine Final Fours under VanDerveer since the last time the program cut down the nets, but finally broke through Sunday night despite a strong effort from the hard-charging Wildcats.