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

The Cardinal were a No. 1 seed in the tournament, and will be a big favorite on Sunday night to win their third national championship.

Stanford Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer celebrates with Stanford Cardinal guard Kiana Williams after defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks in the national semifinals of the women’s Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Alamodome. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 1 Stanford Cardinal have won 30 games this season, a tough accomplishment in a COVID-19 limited season. But they’ve also won 18 in a row to reach the biggest stage in women’s college basketball, as they’ll face the No. 3 Arizona Wildcats for the right to cut down the nets and win a national championship.

Here’s how the Cardinal got back to made their path from the start of the season to Sunday night in San Antonio.

Regular season

It’s a tale of three seasons for Stanford, neatly divided along the schedule. They opened 12-0 including wins over No. 10 UCLA and No. 6 Arizona 84-51 on the road New Year’s Day. But they dropped back-to-back games on January 22 and 24 to UCLA (70-66) and USC (86-59) at home.

Ever since, there’s been nothing but victory. Their current 18-game win streak includes 15 by double digits and five in the NCAA Tournament, as well as another win over Arizona in Maples Pavilion 62-48 on February 22nd. It allowed them to win both the Pac-12 regular season and conference tournament championship.

NCAA Tournament

The Cardinal cruised through the first four games, knocking off No. 16 Utah Valley 87-44 and No. 8 Oklahoma State 73-62 with ease. They didn’t find much resistance in the regional round either, with No. 5 Missouri State (89-62) and Louisville (78-63).

They ran into a true challenge against Zia Cooke and South Carolina in the Final Four, and were pretty lucky to escape with a victory. The 66-65 win puts Stanford in their 11th Women’s Final Four, all under Hall of Fame head coach Tara VanDerveer.

Key players

Kiana Williams and Haley Jones will be the ones to watch for the Cardinal. The senior Williams has struggled a bit offensively in the tournament, but has still been an outstanding stopper that will likely matchup with Arizona’s Aari McDonald. Jones has become a long-range shooter to go with her complete game, knocking down 11-14 shots including 2-2 from three-point range to get Stanford past the Gamecocks.