Aari McDonald, Adia Barnes ignite Arizona's wild run to Women's Final Four
One of the Final Four is actually a three.
The Women’s NCAA basketball tournament has its four semifinalists set, and a new champion will soon be crowned, after the 2019 champion, the Baylor Lady Bears, were knocked off in the Elite Eight by the Connecticut Huskies.
With the victory, UConn joined Stanford, South Carolina, and one wild card in the Final Four: the Arizona Wildcats.
It has been 16 years – 16 years! – since the Wildcats last made the NCAA Tournament, when they lost to LSU in the Round of 32 back in 2005.
The furthest Arizona had made it in the tournament was to the Sweet Sixteen back in 1998, meaning this season, they made loads of history in their first-ever Final Four run.
And the moment represents a full-circle journey for Arizona head coach Adia Barnes, who was a senior during the 1998 Wildcats tournament run.
Barnes played four years at Arizona, led the team to its first-ever NCAA appearance, and set numerous individual records during her playing days.
She was the first player from Arizona to win the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award and the first player from the program to be drafted professionally.
Records continue to be broken while Barnes is involved with the program, and in just her fourth season as coach, she joins South Carolina coach Dawn Staley in breaking racial barriers as well.
Overall, the Wildcats are 20-5 on the season and finished 13-4 in the Pac-12 conference, good enough for a second-place conference finish in the regular season.
And even though they lost to UCLA in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament, they were awarded a No. 3 seed in the tournament and earned first and second-round wins over 14-seed Stony Brook (79-44) and 11-seed BYU (52-46).
Then, in the Sweet 16, Arizona grabbed its best win of the season, a 74-59 upset over 2-seed Texas A&M, highlighted by 31 points from senior guard Aari McDonald, who has been a force in this year's tournament.
McDonald was the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and she has maintained her dominant ways throughout the tournament, dropping 20 on Stony Brook, 17 on BYU, and 33 on Indiana in the Elite Eight, in addition to her outburst against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16.
On the season, McDonald is averaging 20.3 points and 2.7 steals per game, the most of any player in the Final Four.
The Wildcats' memorable run now brings them to the doorstep of their most difficult challenge to date, when they face UConn on Friday night.
But maybe – just maybe – the 'Cats can tame the Huskies.