April 2 (UPI) — The third-seeded Arizona Wildcats earned a 69-59 upset win over the No. 1 seed Connecticut Huskies on Friday night in San Antonio to advance to their first NCAA women’s basketball national championship game in program history.
“We just believed. We worked hard to get here,” Arizona guard Aari McDonald said. “… It was that grit. We didn’t want to go home.”
McDonald scored a game-high 26 points and added seven rebounds for the Wildcats (21-5), who will play No. 1 seed Stanford in Sunday’s title game. Sam Thomas notched 12 points, and Cate Reese added 11 points.
It’s the fourth consecutive semifinals loss for the 11-time national champion Huskies, who trailed by as many as 14 points — their largest deficit of the tournament. Arizona’s defense limited UConn to 35.7% from the field as the Wildcats led from start to finish.
Christyn Williams led UConn (28-2) with 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting. Huskies star freshman Paige Bueckers recorded 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. Evina Westbrook added 10 points.
Earlier Friday, the Stanford Cardinal held off South Carolina in a battle of No. 1 seeds to advance to Sunday’s title game.
Haley Jones scored 24 points and sank the go-ahead shot for the Cardinal (30-2), who survived a wild finish for a 66-65 win over the Gamecocks in San Antonio. Jones drained a jumper off a rebound to give Stanford a one-point lead with 32 seconds remaining.
“I just saw the ball bouncing around and most of my teammates were hitting some bodies to open it up. I just let it fly and I said, ‘Please, Jesus, go in,’ and it did,” Jones said of her late basket. “And then we just had to go on to the next play. There’s no time to get hyped, we had to get back on defense.”
The Gamecocks (26-5) had two prime scoring chances to take the lead in the closing seconds. Brea Beal missed a shot on a drive to the basket, and Aliyah Boston followed with a putback at the buzzer that also failed to find the bottom of the net.
“Brea had a great shot. Aliyah, we should’ve boxed her out, she had a great shot,” Jones said. “Thankfully, it didn’t go in and we’re moving on to Sunday.”
Zia Cooke had a game-high 25 points for the Gamecocks. Destanni Henderson scored 18 points, while Boston finished with 11 points and 16 rebounds.
Stanford last played in the NCAA women’s championship game in the 2010 season. The Cardinal lost to UConn 53-47 that year.