Aari McDonald scored 26 points to lead the No. 3 seed Arizona Wildcats past the No. 1 seed and heavily favored UConn Huskies 69-59 in the Final Four on Friday night in San Antonio.
Arizona will face No. 1 overall seed and fellow Pac-12 member Stanford in the national championship game.
UConn’s Christyn Williams (20 points) fouled out with 3:51 to play.
UConn cut its deficit to eight with 3:05 to go, seven with 2:07 remaining, six with 1:43 left and five on a three from AP Player of the Year Paige Bueckers at the 1:26 mark. An Aaliyah Edwards layup cut it to five again with 1:03 to play, but Arizona made enough free throws to ice the game.
Arizona forced UConn into its largest deficit of the season at 14 points on a Helena Pueyo floater with 1:37 to go in the third. However, the Huskies closed the frame with five-straight points and trailed by nine entering the fourth.
Four straight points from Cate Reese at the beginning of the second opened up a 20-10 Arizona lead. The Wildcats would go on to lead 28-16 and 32-20 before leading 32-22 going into halftime. McDonald had 15 points and was 4-of-7 from distance in the first half.
McDonald ended the first in style, going for a quick blow-by layup with 19 seconds remaining instead of holding for the last shot of the quarter. By doing so, she kept the positive vibes going and increased Arizona’s lead to 16-10. And she was not punished for the decision as Williams missed a three on the other end at the buzzer of the period.
Arizona got off to a quick start with McDonald burying a triple 42 seconds in. After a long scoreless stretch for both teams, Sam Thomas followed with a three that made it 6-0. McDonald’s second trey made it 9-3 with 6:07 to go in the first.