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How Arizona reached the 2021 NCAA women’s basketball national championship game

Here’s how the Wildcats sprung a couple upsets on the way to playing to cut down the nets.

Arizona Wildcats guard Aari McDonald and Arizona Wildcats head coach Adia Barnes speak to the media after defeating the UConn Huskies in the national semifinals of the women’s Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Alamodome. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s certainly a surprise that there’s an all Pac-12 final for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship this season, but the more surprising of the two teams is the Arizona Wildcats, who knocked off a 14-point favorite in the Final Four to get this far.

Here’s how the 2021 Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team arrived on the biggest stage in the sport.

Regular season

Zona was just 16-5 during the regular season, with a good-not-great 13-4 mark in the Pac-12. They actually fell twice to Stanford during the regular season, falling 84-51 at home on New Year’s Day, and 62-48 in Palo Alto in the penultimate game of Pac-12 play.

They were eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals in Las Vegas by UCLA 58-49, which was enough to earn them a No. 3 seed in a strong Pac-12 this season.

NCAA Tournament

The Wildcats have roared since, disposing of Stony Brook 79-44 before getting by a talented and tall BYU 52-46 in the second round. They truly rounded into form the second weekend, taking out No. 2 seed Texas A&M 74-59 and No. 4 Indiana 66-53 in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

That left a matchup with UConn in the Final Four, who were expected by the wagering community to comfortably win by 14. But Aari McDonald’s 26 points and seven rebounds, alongside some brilliant defense on national player of the year Paige Bueckers, put the Wildcats through to the last game of the year. It’s a heckuva ride for a team that had never been past the Elite Eight in program history before this weekend.

Key players

Aari McDonald is the only one were listing here, because as good as her teammates are, they’re just not in the same league. She’s averaging 21 points per game for the season but 25.6 in the NCAA Tournament, including phenomenal performances against Indiana and UConn that almost-singlehandedly put her team on this stage. While the Wildcats will be underdogs on Sunday night, they are hopeless without another standout performance from the 5’6 senior.