Stanford defeated Arizona to win their first NCAA championship since 1992.
By Alex Holmes
The 2021 NCAA Championship trophy will return to Palo Alto for the first time in 29 years after top-seeded Stanford defeated third-seeded Arizona 54–53 in the national title game Sunday evening. Haley Jones and Lexie Hull led the Cardinal to the program’s third national championship. Aari McDonald finished her heroic NCAA tournament with a game-high 22 points.
The Cardinal survived a late run by the Wildcats and fended off a last-second three-point shot from McDonald to secure the win. Jones scored Stanford’s last three points of the season after finishing a three-point play with 2:24 left in the game. Her free throw proved to be the game-winner.
Jones scored 17 points and grabbed 8 rebounds, earning the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player honors. Jones became the first Cardinal player to win the Final Four MOP since Molly Goodenbour accomplished the feat in 1992. Lexie Hull finished the season with a double-double, scoring 10 points and hauling in 10 boards.
Arizona shot just 28% from the field and were outrebounded 47–29. Those stats show that a gritty defense and a lot of heart can take you a long way, as the Wildcats had a chance to win the game in the final five seconds. McDonald’s three-point shot at the buzzer bounced off the back of the rim.
The game was a defensive battle from start to finish. Arizona forced 21 Cardinal turnovers and held Stanford to a season-low 54 points. Stanford’s defense proved to be the difference, holding only two Arizona players to double figures and ultimately making the final stop that won the game.
Aari McDonald was the darling of the NCAA tournament and made a strong case for Final Four MOP. She led Arizona in scoring in each round of the tournament and guided her team to the program’s first Final Four in its history. McDonald is expected to be a first-round pick in the WNBA Draft on April 15.
Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer has a treasure trove of talent expected to return next season. Junior Lexie Hull, freshman Cameron Brink, and sophomores Jones, Fran Belibi, Ashten Prechtel, and Hannah Jump will make Stanford a heavy favorite for repeating as the national champion next spring.