Disrespected by the NCAA and underestimated by Connecticut, Aari McDonald and the third-seeded Wildcats showcased both the high level of Paige Bueckers had a rare bad game, and UConn’s vaunted offense started and ended with Christyn Williams. But do not diminish Arizona by characterizing this as a UConn loss. This was an Arizona win, through and through. “We believe in each other,” Arizona said. “We believe in what we do.”by pulling off the biggest shock of the women’s tournament Friday night. Arizona never trailed and, aside from 20 seconds with 90 seconds to go, was never really threatened in a 69-59 win over top-seeded UConn. Yes, freshman phenom
And everyone else is better, too. The NCAA ensured that McDonald and her teammates would be playing with Grand Canyon-sized chips on their shoulders after leaving them out of the pre-game promotional video. The very name of this stage in the tournament is the Final Four. You almost have to try to screw that up. Williams acknowledged that UConn probably made the same mistake, saying, “(I think) we thought it was going to be easy, I guess, and we got flustered.” But the days of looking past programs because they’re not UConn, Baylor, or South Carolina are over, as UConn learned the.
“For us to be left out (of the video), it wasn’t cool at all,” McDonald said. “Okay, you all think it’s the final three? We’re going to show you all. We shocked the world tonight. Keep betting against my teammates and me. We’re going to show you wrong. We’re going to prove you wrong.” There was a time when it probably was fair to say the game lacked parity that it wasn’t much more than Tennessee, UConn, and a Stanford team that could make an occasional deep run; that hasn’t been the case in a long time, though. Rather than ceding superiority to Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma, everyone else in the game they were worked to get better. The coaching got better. Added resources led to improved programs, which eventually led to a deeper talent pool.
Look what’s happened. Arizona had never even made a Final Four, and now it’s playing for the national title. It’s Stanford’s first appearance since 2010. And regardless of which, there will be a new national champion for the fourth time in as many tournaments. “There are so many different teams that could NC State, Texas A&M,” Barnes said. “There are so many factors that go into getting this far. It’s the right matchup. It’s the right momentum at the right time. It’s peaking, playing your best basketball, and getting hot in March.”
“I don’t take how hard it is to get here for granted. It’s tough,” Barnes added. “All the chips have to fall; the stars have to be aligned; all those things have to happen. I’m just glad that it happened to us. I’m glad we got momentum when needed, and we’re playing some good basketball.” This wasn’t the result of UConn having a stormy night. This resulted from Arizona having a good night — a perfect night, yes, but not one that came out of nowhere, never to be duplicated again. The Wildcats came into the game, holding opponents to less than 37% shooting and 55 points per game. UConn finished with 59 points on 35.7% shooting. McDonald was theof the Year. Bueckers was harassed into a 5-of-13 shooting.
Arizona is also a veteran team; three starters are seniors, and the other two are juniors. They’re not going to get rattled. So the signs were there if you’d only bothered to read them. “We were confident. We’ve been playing with confidence these last four or five games,” McDonald said. “We were hitting. We were getting stops and playing solid defense. I mean, it wasn’t like a wild moment. It’s like, ‘We’re confident; we do this.’ ” Do this, they did. And no one will ever overlook Arizona again.