On Friday night in San Antonio, the Women's Final Four returned for the first time in two years, and the action did not disappoint. In the first game of the evening, Stanford won a one-point thriller over South Carolina, and in the second game of the doubleheader, Arizona stunned UConn with a brilliant defensive performance.
Now, the two Pac-12 rivals will meet on Sunday evening in the national championship. The Cardinal are looking for their third title in school history, and their first since 1992. Arizona, meanwhile, had never gotten past the Sweet Sixteen before this year, and are looking for their first title.
Ahead of tip-off, here's everything you need to know:
- Date: Sunday, April 4 | Time: 6 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
- Odds: STAN (-9) | STAN -475 | ARIZ +360
(Odds via William Hill Sportsbook)
How they got here:
Despite having to spend nine weeks on the road in the middle of the season due to COVID-19 regulations in their home county in California, Stanford was arguably the best team in college basketball all season long. They went 25-2 in the regular season and won the Pac-12 Tournament, which earned them the top overall seed in the entire tournament.
In the tournament they had little trouble until Friday night, when they just barely escaped with a one-point win over South Carolina in the Final Four.
- First Round: Stanford 87 -- Utah Valley 44
- Second Round: Stanford 73 -- Oklahoma State 62
- Sweet 16: Stanford 89 -- Missouri State 62
- Elite Eight: Stanford 78 -- Louisville 63
- Final Four: Stanford 66 -- South Carolina 65
One stat to know:
- 38.6 percent
One of the major reasons for Stanford's success this season is that they're an elite 3-point shooting team, knocking down 38.6 percent of their attempts, which ranks sixth in the entire country. Even more impressive is that it's not just a one or two-woman attack. Save for Fran Belibi, who has only attempted one triple all season long, every single player on the Cardinal roster with at least 200 minutes played is shooting 35 percent of better from deep.
When almost everyone on the court is a threat to knock down a shot from the outside, it makes things extremely difficult on the opposing defense, and shutting down Stanford's 3-point attack is going to be a big test for Arizona. Especially considering that Stanford has already set the record for most 3s in a tournament with 55.
One player to watch:
- Kiana Williams
Stanford's senior point guard, who is looking to win the national title in her hometown of San Antonio, has been the team's leader all season long. But over the last two games, Williams has struggled. She did hit a couple big shots in the second half of their win over Louisville, but she's still only managed a combined 22 points, eight assists and four rebounds on 10 of 34 from the field in the Elite Eight and Final Four.
While the Cardinal have managed to advance without Williams at her best, it's hard to keep winning this deep in the tournament without big games from your leading scorer. And if Stanford want to cut down the nets, they'll likely need Williams to step up. Whether or not she'll be able to do so against the tough perimeter defense of Aari McDonald and Co., however, remains to be seen. Williams didn't exactly light it up in the regular season games against Arizona, averaging 10 points and three assists on 35 percent shooting.
How they got here:
Like most teams, Arizona's season was affected by COVID-19, and as a result they only ended up playing 21 regular season games. They went 16-5, with two of those losses coming to Stanford, and earned a No. 3 seed in the tournament -- their first appearance since back in 2005.
Before this year, they only had six tournament appearances in school history, and had never been past the Sweet Sixteen. You wouldn't know it by how they've played over the last few weeks, however, as they've won all but one game by double-digits en route to the the title game.
- First Round: Arizona 79 -- Stony Brook 44
- Second Round: Arizona 52 -- BYU 46
- Sweet Sixteen: Arizona 74 -- Texas A&M 59
- Elite Eight: Arizona 66 -- Indiana 53
- Final Four: Arizona 69 -- UConn 59
One stat to know:
The Wildcats were one of the better defensive teams all season long, and in the tournament they've turned things up a notch. No one has figured out how to score against them on a consistent basis, not even UConn, one of the best offensive teams in the nation. So far in the tournament, Arizona has allowed just 78.7 points per 100 possessions, which is the best defensive rating of any team that qualified.
Leading the way at the point of attack is Aari McDonald, the two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball. She has the ability to take the other team's best player completely out of the game, and her teammates take care of the rest. They rebound the ball well and hound opponents into turnovers. So far in the tournament, their opponent turnover percentage is 21.4 percent, and it's really hard to score when you don't even get a shot up on more than one-fifth of your possessions.
One player to know:
- Aari McDonald
This one is obvious. McDonald has been the best player in the tournament so far, and has been getting it done on both ends of the floor. She's putting up 25.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 steals per game on this run to the championship, all while shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 48.6 percent from 3-point land -- stunning numbers for a player who was a career 28.4 percent shooter from downtown.
Like any true star, she's stepped up when it's mattered most. She put up 31 points in their Sweet Sixteen win over Texas A&M, 33 points in their Elite Eight win over Indiana and 26 points in the Final Four win over UConn. For the season, those are her first, second and sixth highest scoring games. If the Wildcats want to pull the upset on Sunday, they'll need one more heroic game from McDonald.