Stanford edges Arizona to end 29-year title drought

Published April 5, 2021, 5:21 PM

by Carlo Anolin

Members of the Stanford Cardinal celebrate the team’s win against the Arizona Wildcats in the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Alamodome on April 04, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (AFP)

The Stanford Cardinal edged the Arizona Wildcats in a classic finale that went down the wire to end their 29-year title drought in a showdown between two Pac-12 teams for the first time ever at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas Monday, Manila time.

The No. 1 Cardinal saw its nine-point lead slowly melt in the fourth quarter but pulled their acts together for a final defensive stand to score a 54-53 win over the resilient Wildcats.

Stanford was enjoying a comfortable 49-40 gap in the payoff period until the third-seeded Arizona rallied back thanks to the efforts of Shaina Pellington and Aari McDonald who worked hand in hand to cut the deficit to 51-50.

Not to be deterred, the Cardinal were able to hold ground and made it a 54-50 count, but star guard McDonald fought back and calmly sank three consecutive free throws with 37 seconds left to pull her team to within one.

Trailing at 54-53, Arizona had its chance to turn the tables but McDonald, with three defenders swarming her, missed a desperation jumper at the buzzer to the delight of the Cardinal who have been longing for a taste of championship for almost three decades.

Sophomore guard Haley Jones led Stanford with 17 points, eight rebounds, a steal and a block, Cameron Brink posted 10 markers, six rebounds and three blocks, while Lexi Hull had a double-double performance of 10 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.

“This is a dream come true for our team. I think it’ll probably hit me tomorrow,” said coach Tara VanDerveer, who steered the Cardinal to their third national title in her 35th season with the team.

VanDerveer was behind Stanford’s first championship in 1990 and then followed it up by capturing the crown in 1992.

Per ESPN, Stanford’s 29-year gap between NCAA titles is the “longest for any Division I coach in any sport.”

McDonald paced Arizona with 22 points, three rebounds, two assists and two assists while Pellington tallied 15 markers, seven rebounds and three steals