Arizona continues to make history, heads into the national championship game after taking down UConn

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 2: Aari McDonald #2 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrate their win over the Connecticut Huskies in the semifinals of the NCAA WomenÕs Basketball Tournament at Alamodome on April 2, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ben Solomon via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – APRIL 2: Aari McDonald #2 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrate their win over the Connecticut Huskies in the semifinals of the NCAA WomenÕs Basketball Tournament at Alamodome on April 2, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ben Solomon via Getty Images)

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Arizona continues to make history this season as the Wildcats beat UConn in the Final Four to head to the national championship game for the first time in program history.

With an electrifying performance from senior guard Aari McDonald and invaluable contributions from Sam Thomas, Cate Reese, Bendu Yeaney, and Trinity Baptiste, Arizona stunned the Huskies to set up a meeting with fellow Pac-12 member Stanford on Sunday.

“I’ve been saying all along the Pac-12 is the best conference in the country, hands down,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “I think this is proof of it.”

UConn never led as the Wildcats came out strong with three-point shots from McDonald, who got things started. The dynamic guard finished the quarter with eight points as her team lead 16-10, heading into the second period.

She continued her pace with Thomas and Reese’s help as Arizona outscored the Huskies 16-12 to enter halftime with a 32-22 lead. It was the first time this season that UConn trailed by double digits at the break.

The Huskies improved their offensive effort in the third quarter with a 17-16 effort over the Wildcats but still lagged. Arizona went into the last period confidently and with a 48-39 advantage.

Both teams went on a scoring binge in the last quarter; Arizona put up 21 points while UConn scored 20. However, the Wildcats were undaunted in their efforts to reach the national championship and earned the right to celebrate their feat when the final buzzer sounded.

McDonald finished with 26 points plus seven rebounds. Thomas added 12 points and five rebounds. Reese was also in double digits with 11 points. Yeaney had key contributions late in the game, scored eight points, pulled down four rebounds, and dished out four assists. Baptiste’s seven points and six rebounds were also crucial for the Wildcats.

Christyn Williams led UConn with 20 points plus five rebounds. Heralded freshman Paige Bueckers put up 18 points and added six rebounds plus four assists. Evina Westbrook added 10 points for the Huskies.

“This was a really hard game,” Barnes said. “We did not have any pressure. It’s a much easier situation to be us than it is UConn because I think that program is so good, you’re expected to win, and that’s hard. We had a little bit of experience with that this year; being a top-10 team or being a top-12 team, it’s a little bit harder than it is to be an unranked team chasing and trying to get wins.”

Success in the Classroom

The NCAA announced Friday that Thomas won this season’s Elite 90 Award for Division I women’s basketball.

The award “recognizes the true essence of the student-athlete by honoring the individual who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers. The Elite 90 is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s 90 championships.”

Thomas, a senior, is a psychology major and has a 3.97 grade point average.

Notes

  • Before Friday, Arizona and UConn had only met once, in the 1998 Sweet 16. Barnes, the program’s all-time leading scorer, played in that game, and UConn won.
  • The Wildcats will play in their first National Championship in school history.
  • Adia Barnes is the only coach in school history to win their first five NCAA Tournament games.
  • Arizona beat a No. 1-seed for the first time in school history.
  • The Wildcats won both their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games by double-figures.
  • Barnes is one of six head coaches to lead their alma mater to the Final Four.
  • For the first time, there were two black women head coaches in the Final Four. Dawn Staley and South Carolina faced Stanford in the other game.

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