SAN ANTONIO — It’s been nearly three decades since Tara VanDerveer last won a national championship at Stanford.
She’ll have a chance to win her third title when the Cardinal face Pac-12 rival Arizona. The Wildcats are playing in their first championship game ever after knocking off top-ranked Connecticut in the Final Four.
“It’s just I think a credit to how competitive the Pac-12 is,” Stanford coach VanDerveer said.
It’s the first meeting of conference rivals in the championship game since South Carolina beat Mississippi State in 2017.
To get to the game the Cardinal got a little bit of luck edging South Carolina 66-65 on a basket by Haley Jones with 32 seconds left. The Cardinal survived two last-second misses by the Gamecocks.
Arizona didn’t need any last-second karma to beat the Huskies. Wildcats All-America Aari McDonald scored 26 points and the team played stifling defense on UConn, holding them to 22 points in the first half and leading by 10. UConn got within five with a minute left, but could get no closer.
The win made Adia Barnes the first coach to lead her alma mater to the championship game since Sonja Hogg guided Louisiana Tech to the first NCAA title in 1982 and was the runner up in 1983.
It’s been quite a year for VanDerveer and the Cardinal. The team was forced on the road for nearly 10 weeks because of the coronavirus. They’ll have spent 86 days in hotels during this nomadic season.
The Cardinal didn’t complain and went about their business. Along the way the Hall of Fame coach earned her 1,099th career victory to pass Pat Summitt for the most all-time in women’s basketball history.
These two Pac-12 teams met twice this season with the Cardinal winning both meetings. Stanford won 81-54 on New Year’s Day and 62-48 on Feb. 22.
The conference, which has had six different teams reach the Final Four since 2013 will be guaranteed its first champion since Stanford won in 1992.