The Arizona women’s basketball team defeated UConn on Friday, April 2, in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, 69-59, advancing to its first NCAA national championship game for the first time in program history.
"This was a really hard game,” head coach Adia Barnes said. “We got hot at the right time during the tournament. If you look back at two or three weeks ago, we weren’t playing our best basketball. We started to change some things and got better. Just became more united right before the tournament, just found ways."
The Wildcats were led by their star Aari McDonald, who scored a game-high 26 points on 7-17 from the field and 4-9 from the three and also had seven rebounds.
Arizona started the game with stifling defense and that continued throughout the whole game. UConn led the nation in assists at 20.8 per game and Arizona held them to only 11. Arizona forced UConn to play one-on-one basketball and that was the reason UConn only shot 36% for the night.
“We have a stingy defense,” McDonald said. “Everybody takes pride in their defense and you definitely saw that on display tonight.”
Arizona was undersized in this game but that did not stop their hustle and heart from showing. They won the rebound battle, 36-34 and Helena Pueyo had eight, McDonald had seven and Trinity Baptiste had six rebounds.
“My teammates are dogs,” McDonald said. “It started with me and I think that effect rubbed off on my teammates this last stretch of playing basketball. I’m just proud of them, we had that mentality, we weren't scared and that showed tonight. I’m just extremely proud of them and I’m very appreciative for my teammates and my coaches. We just beat a great team. I mean UConn, that's a powerhouse, it doesn’t get better than that.”
Arizona has made history in beating UConn. They came into this game as massive underdogs but showed why they deserve to be here.
“I’m just so proud everybody has stepped up in different ways,” Barnes said. “Everybody from Sam [Thomas], Cate [Reese], Lauren [Ware], Helena [Pueyo], Shaina [Pellington], Aari [McDonald], Bendu [Yeaney], Trinity [Baptiste]. Everybody has done a little bit more. That’s all I can ask for. They’re playing their hearts out. They believe, I believe. We don’t care if anybody believes.”
The Wildcats will play their Pac-12 rivals, Stanford, in the NCAA national championship on Sunday, April 4, at 3 p.m. MST.
Follow Devin Homer on Twitter