Stanford wins NCAA women’s title

Stanford Cardinal players celebrate after winning the national championship game of the women’s Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament against the Arizona Wildcats, April 4, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)
Stanford snapped a 29-year title drought to end a season that at points seemed uncertain to be completed during the coronavirus pandemic, claiming the NCAA women’s basketball championship with a tight win Sunday over Arizona 54-53.اضافة اعلان

Stanford led for much of the game and started the fourth quarter up 3 points. But Arizona guard Aari McDonald, who had scored the most points by any player in the tournament before Sunday’s game, started beating Stanford’s defenses and closed Arizona’s deficit to 1 on a step-back jumper with 3 minutes, 35 seconds left.

Stanford’s Haley Jones, whose game-winning shot helped the Cardinal defeat top-seeded South Carolina in the Final Four and who led them with 17 points Sunday, added a free throw to offer the Cardinal a cushion, but McDonald was hot. She got closer with a free throw, then had a final opportunity after Stanford turned it over on a shot clock violation with less than 6 seconds left.

Her last-second jumper, a turnaround heave as she was swarmed by three Cardinal defenders, bounced off the back of the rim as time expired, delivering the Cardinal their third title in program history.

The battle between the teams that topped the Pac-12 Conference, then outlasted 62 others in the NCAA Tournament echoed the unusual circumstances of the tournament itself. Traditional powers like No. 1-seeded UConn and South Carolina and No. 2-seeded Baylor found themselves watching the title game from afar, and the field of 64 carried more teams that had a legitimate chance to win it all. They played against the backdrop of the public health crisis and questions about the stature of women’s basketball in an embattled college sports industry. But through it all, Stanford was considered one of the sport’s top teams and solidified that claim with its championship.

“We’re excited to win the COVID championship,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said in an interview on ESPN after the game.

The title game brought together Pac-12 rivals for the first time. It also featured one of the few Black coaches ever to reach the title game in a sport where more than 40 percent of its players are Black. The tournament itself, a three-week bonanza running concurrently with the NCAA men’s tournament that was scheduled to conclude Monday night, became a forum for conversation about the inequities between men’s and women’s college sports.

It all played in front of a crowd that was equal parts cardboard cutouts and mask-wearing humans amid a pandemic that shuttered most large-scale in-person events over the last year.

The win was Stanford’s first national title since 1992 — all have been won with VanDerveer, who started coaching the Cardinal in 1985 and became the winningest coach in women’s college basketball history this season. In accordance with the pandemic’s ambience, she celebrated passing longtime Tennessee coach Pat Summitt on the career wins list with just her team and staff in a practically barren stadium 80 miles northeast of Stanford’s campus while local health restrictions prohibited them from playing at home.