The Stanford Cardinal were given a scare, but had the upper hand in a 54-53 victory over the Arizona Wildcats in the national championship game on Sunday night in San Antonio.
The Cardinal, who received 17 points and eight rebounds from Haley Jones and 10 and 10 from Lexie Hull, are on top of women’s college basketball for the third time and the first time since 1992.
Arizona’s Aari McDonald (22 points) was covered well and missed a desperation three at the buzzer.
McDonald made 3-of-4 free throws over two trips to the stripe to take the Arizona deficit from four to one with 36.6 seconds to go. Arizona forced a shot clock violation on Stanford’s next possession and got the ball back with 5.5 seconds to go.
Arizona made multiple comebacks during the game and refused to go down without a fight. McDonald’s fourth three of the game cut Stanford’s lead to one with 3:35 to play. Stanford pushed back ahead a bit more after that.
Bendu Yeaney ended the third with a steal and assist to Shaina Pellington in transition followed by another steal at the buzzer to keep Arizona’s deficit at three entering the fourth. Stanford ran into turnover problems late in the third that allowed Arizona to come back.
Jones was making beautiful cuts earlier in the third, like she had done all tournament. Back-to-back layups from her took the score from 37-31 Stanford to 41-31 and helped the Cardinal overcome the adversity of Anna Wilson registering her third foul early in the frame.
Stanford played well in the latter half of the second quarter to go up seven at halftime. The Cardinal led by as much as 10 in the frame after an 11-0 run that featured a 4-point play from Hull and a three from Wilson. McDonald was held to five points off 2-of-11 shooting from the field in the first half.
In the first quarter, it seemed like Stanford was threatening to run out to a big lead and exert its dominance as the No. 1 overall seed. Like maybe Arizona had used up its last bit of magic to topple mighty UConn. However, a Trinity Baptiste three with 3:11 to go in the opening period was followed by the Wildcats holding the Cardinal scoreless for the remainder of the frame. That cut Stanford’s lead to eight.
Cate Reese made some key plays on offense and defense to open the second and Arizona slowly fought back until a Pellington steal and fast break layup gave it the lead at 21-20 with 4:53 to go until halftime.
Stanford came out calm. Hull opened the game with a mid-range make, which was followed by a McDonald three that rattled in. From there, the Cardinal went on a 12-0 run, which included threes from Ashten Prechtel and Kiana Williams and a drawn charge on McDonald, which gave the Arizona star her first foul two minutes and 59 seconds into the contest.