10 reasons to watch the NCAA Women's final between Arizona and Stanford
For the first time in NCAA women's tournament history, two Pac-12 teams will face off in the national championship game.
After a thrilling Final Four – in which 1-seed Stanford narrowly escaped with a victory over fellow 1-seed South Carolina and 3-seed Arizona dominated 1-seed UConn from start to finish – the title game is guaranteed to be an exciting one.
The two conference foes face off at 6 p.m. ET Sunday. Here are 10 reasons you won't want to miss this matchup.
10. Defensive battle for the ages
The Cardinal own the second-best field-goal percentage defense in the nation, at 32.9%, and caused serious problems for the Gamecocks, who finished the semifinal shooting just 35.8% from the paint and 45% from deep.
On the other side, against the offensive force that is the UConn Huskies, Arizona played suffocating defense and prevented freshman phenom Paige Bueckers from playing her game. The Wildcats contested 15 of the Huskies' 25 field-goal attempts and held UConn to 3-for-15 on those shots. UConn had 39 points through three quarters, its fewest since quarters were implemented in the 2015-16 season.
9. Unstoppable force vs. immovable object
Stanford is riding a 19-game win streak. Arizona dropped three of its four games heading into the tournament, but the Wildcats have heated up when it matters, defeating their opponents by an average of 15.8 points through their first five games in the tournament.
In addition, Arizona dominates possession, with the 18th-fewest turnovers per game (12.3) and 14th-most steals (274). Stanford doesn't create turnovers, sitting 196th in the nation in turnovers forced per game (15.19), but the Cardinal are second in the nation in blocked shots, with 191.
8. Raining 3-pointers
The Stanford women set a record with 55 made 3-pointers in the NCAA tournament. Their 38.3% 3-point shooting on the season ranks seventh in the nation, and the Cardinal offense as a whole ranks 13th in points per game (78.9).
The Wildcats, for their part, rank a lowly 151st in 3-point defense, so look for the Cardinal to capitalize on their advantage there. Specifically watch out for Kiana Williams, who has made 81 shots from deep this season, the most by any player in this final.
7. Tara VanDerveer
It has been almost three decades since Tara VanDerveer won a national championship with Stanford, having led the team to the title in 1990 and 1992. Now in her 35th season, VanDerveer has her team in position to bring home that long-awaited third national championship.
This season, the Cardinal (29-2) won the Pac-12 regular-season title for the 24th time in VanDerveer's career. She was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year for the 10th time and Naismith Women's College Basketball Coach of the Year for the third time (1990 and 2011).
Along the way, the future Hall of Famer passed Pat Summitt for the most wins in women’s college basketball history.
6. Adia Barnes
Arizona's Adia Barnes is the first coach to lead her alma mater to the championship game since Sonja Hogg took Louisiana Tech to its first NCAA title in 1982.
Barnes has quite the legacy from her playing time as a Wildcat. She guided the team to its first NCAA appearance in 1997, set 22 individual records, including career points (2,237) and rebounds (921), and became the first player from Arizona drafted into the WNBA.
Now in her fifth season as head coach, Barnes has led the Wildcats to the first Final Four in program history.
5. Aari McDonald
Arizona guard Aari McDonald scored a game-high 26 points with seven rebounds in the semifinal against UConn. She was a walking highlight reel for the Wildcats in the upset.
This season, McDonald is averaging 20.5 points, the most of any player in this final and 26th in the nation, along with 5.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
4. Haley Jones
Stanford's Haley Jones is labeled as a guard but better known as a hybrid, as she does a little bit of everything, including wing and post.
For the season, Jones averages 13.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. She locked up the dub in the Final Four with her shot in the paint and finished with 24 points on 11-for-14 shooting, despite playing just nine minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
3. Undaunted underdogs
Arizona was the ultimate underdog against UConn, and the Wildcats played like they had nothing to lose. The 11-time NCAA champion Huskies were heavy favorites (-13.5 on FanDuel) in their 13th straight Final Four appearance, led by Bueckers, the first freshman to win AP Women's Player of the Year.
Arizona will be the underdog once again against Stanford (+8.5 on FanDuel). But don't expect that to scare the Wildcats one bit.
2. Completing a trilogy
The NCAA championship will mark the third meeting between these two teams this season. Stanford won both games against Arizona in the regular season: 81-54 on New Year’s Day and 62-48 on Feb. 22.
Coming into the tournament, the conference had placed six teams in the Final Four since 2013 but had not produced a champion since Stanford won it all in 1992. That's guaranteed to change Sunday.
1. History in the making
After never trailing against UConn on the way to their first win over an AP No. 1 team, the Wildcats are headed to their first tournament final, and a win against Stanford would bring the first national championship in program history.
Stanford, for its part, is going for its first national championship since 1992. If Stanford wins it all, the Cardinal will become just the fourth women’s program to win three-plus titles, joining UConn, Tennessee and Baylor.