Arizona played in the program’s first national title game against conference foe Stanford on Sunday, and even with a low 29 percent shooting performance from the field (27 percent from 3-point range) the Wildcats managed to scratch and claw their way to the end, relying on the defensive grit that had gotten them to this point of the season.
That grit paid off, giving Arizona the last possession of the game with 6.1 left on the clock and the whole nation knowing the All-American guard Aari McDonald was going to take the last shot of the game.
McDonald faced a swarm of Stanford defenders that denied her a lane, thus forcing her to take a contested 3-point shot. The ball hit the back of the iron as Adia Barnes‘ team fell 54-53 to the Cardinal to end an incredible tournament run at San Antonio’s Alamodome.
Congratulations to @ArizonaWBB on an absolutely incredible season🐻⬇️
— Arizona Athletics (@AZATHLETICS) April 5, 2021
Coming into the tournament, No. 3 seed Arizona was an afterthought to many in the national media as a team that could win a title.
Thanks to McDonald and players that bought into the program’s culture, the Wildcats made a tourney run that will go down as one of the best the sport has seen.
In order to go on a run of this magnitude, a star player must hit a level never reached before.
That’s precisely what McDonald did by averaging 24.8 points, shooting 47 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range.
When McDonald came to Arizona from Washington, the program was lightyears away from being a title contender winning just six games the year she had to sit out due to transfer rules.
Three seasons later, Barnes has coached McDonald and her teams to a record of 69-26. McDonald is leaving the program in a better place than when she found it and has cemented herself as the greatest player in Wildcats history.
“Aari, hands down, no doubt is the best player in Arizona history, a better player than I could have ever been. I’m proud that I coached her,” said Barnes.
Here are McDonald and Barnes talking about what the team accomplished this season and discussing the outlook of the program’s future
No one will forget the legacy that McDonald is leaving behind by scoring in double digits in every game (93 of them) she had played for the Wildcats, scoring 2,314 career points.
She changed the program and attracted a new wave of fans for years to come.
McDonald will be remembered as one of the athletes belonging on a Mount Rushmore that has competed at Arizona. Jennie Finch, Sean Elliott, and Ricky Hunley are right there with her as athletes who have forever changed their sport.
Here’s Sam Thomas talking about her team’s season and discussing what impact the team had on the program for the future:
FOLLOW TROY HUTCHISON ON TWITTER!
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Troy Hutchison hails from Tucson and is a lifelong Arizona Wildcats follower. He has been involved in sports journalism over the last two years while taking communications courses at Pima Community College.