SAN ANTONIO — There’s an old saying that good things come in threes, and the Stanford women’s basketball team may be the newest believer.

On Easter Sunday, the Cardinal won the program’s third national championship with its third victory over Arizona this season, 54-53, in a game that came down to the final shot. Stanford capped a tumultuous season that saw it forced to live on the road for nine weeks, practicing at a gym with wooden backboards for a stretch, after Santa Clara County (Calif.) prohibited all contact sports in late November.

“It’s been chaotic, hectic,” said Stanford forward Haley Jones, who was named the NCAA women’s tournament’s most outstanding player. “It was just a long, very difficult journey. Being on the road, sleeping in hotels, living out of your bag. It’s just a lot. You’re on the bus. You’re on planes all the time. And there’s just never really an end in sight.

“But I think from that experience . . . it just really grew this extra chip on our shoulder. We just had something extra to us this year. I think it came from just being resilient from all the things we went through. . . . We’re resilient. We’re gritty. [The coaches] always say, ‘No more nice girls from Stanford.’”

The world seemed to stand still as Arizona star Aari McDonald, who scored a game-high 22 points, got the ball with six seconds remaining and an opportunity to win the game. She dribbled to the top of the arc and was rushed by three defenders, but she still got the shot up over their outstretched arms. The ball caromed off the rim, and a magical run for the third-seeded Wildcats came to an end.

“It was going to be Aari or nothing,” Arizona Coach Adia Barnes said. “At that point, we’ve been on Aari’s back for the whole tournament. She’s got to take that shot. It still had a chance of going in. But I have to put the ball in her hands in that situation because she’s one of the reasons why we’re here.”

McDonald added, “She trusts me to put the team on my back, ride or die.”

Jones led Stanford with 17 points and added eight rebounds. Cameron Brink had 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks, while Lexie Hull finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Shaina Pellington was every bit as important as McDonald for the Wildcats with 15 points and seven rebounds.

After the final shot missed, Jones and her teammates huddled together near midcourt, with confetti raining down as coaches cut the nets, and danced as a group to Alicia Keys’s “Girl on Fire.”

Arizona was down 10 points in the third quarter but closed the period with a 9-2 run to cut Stanford’s lead to 43-40 going into the final 10 minutes. Stanford had answered every time Arizona made it close, and this time was no exception. It scored six straight points, including a pair of buckets from Jones, to push the lead back to 49-40.

The scrappy Wildcats refused to roll over and used a 10-2 run, including a roar-inducing three-pointer from McDonald, to cut the lead to 51-50 with 3:37 left.

Jones answered with a reverse-pivot layup, was fouled and hit the free throw to push the lead to 54-50 with 2:24 remaining. Those three points proved to be enough.

Stanford guard Kiana Williams reminisced about the team getting back to campus in September and having to quarantine for five days. On the fourth day, the players sneaked out to play pickup basketball. Coach Tara VanDerveer, who became the winningest coach in women’s college basketball history this season, found out. Williams said the coach was “heartbroken,” but they vowed to make up for it from that point forward by winning a national championship.

“The adversity that we faced off the court helped us on the court,” VanDerveer said. “I’m so proud of this team. Not just for their basketball but for being able to get through this covid and be so mature.

“[In September], it was a breach of protocol. . . . I was hurt, and I was upset, and I let them know that. I think, though, that developed more trust with us . . . and they understood that you have to be accountable. . . . That incident helped us. . . . That really set the tone that we’re going to be honest and we’re going to be trustworthy.”

Coaches love to use the cliche that basketball is a game of runs, but the first half of the championship game proved that cliches are often rooted in truth. Stanford opened the game with a 14-3 burst, with five different players putting points on the board as the Arizona defense looked a bit soft early. A Trinity Baptiste three-pointer off a McDonald kick-out cut the lead to 16-8 after the first quarter as the Wildcats began to settle in and play their typically stout defense.

Arizona started the second quarter with a 13-4 stretch capped by a steal and layup by Pellington, giving the Wildcats their first lead (21-20) since it was 3-2. The defense started turning Stanford over, and the Cardinal had 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

The Cardinal, however, responded with an 11-0 run and took a 31-24 lead into halftime.

The matchup was the seventh women’s final to feature teams from the same conference and the first all-Pac-12 title game. VanDerveer previously led the Cardinal to championships in 1990 and 1992.

All-tournament team: Zia Cooke (South Carolina), Paige Bueckers (U-Conn.), Aari McDonald (Arizona), Lexie Hull (Stanford) and most outstanding player Haley Jones (Stanford).

— Story by Kareem Copeland

Stanford beats Arizona, 54-53, to win national championship

12:19 a.m.
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The top-seeded Stanford women’s basketball team outlasted No. 3 Arizona, 54-53, in the national championship game at the Alamodome in San Antonio to claim the third NCAA title in program history and first since 1992.

The Wildcats had the final possession, but their aspirations for a first national championship ended when Aari McDonald missed a step-back three-pointer at the buzzer.

Haley Jones led the Cardinal (31-2) with 17 points and eight rebounds, and Lexie Hull and Cameron Brink each had 10.

Arizona got within 51-47 with 4:51 left in the fourth quarter on a three-point play from Shaina Pellington, drawing a fourth personal foul on Brink. McDonald followed with a step-back three-pointer to trim the deficit to 51-50 with 3:35 to play, capping a 10-2 run.

Moments later, Jones pushed Stanford’s lead back to two possessions, 54-50, completing a three-point play with a layup and free throw, with 2:24 to go. McDonald made 1 of 2 free throws with 59 seconds left and was at the foul line again 23 seconds later, sinking both attempts, and Arizona trailed, 54-53.

On the ensuing possession, Stanford committed a shot-clock violation, giving the Wildcats (21-6) the ball with 6.1 seconds to play.

The Cardinal owned an 11-0 advantage in second-chance points, 36-20 in points in the paint and 38-24 in rebounding.

McDonald finished with 22 points but shot just 5 for 22 amid stifling defense from the Cardinal.

Stanford holds 43-40 lead over Arizona after three quarters

11:47 p.m.
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Stanford leads Arizona, 43-40, after three quarters behind 10 points each from Lexie Hull and Haley Jones and unforgiving defense on Wildcats star guard Aari McDonald.

The Cardinal had led by as many as 10, at 41-31, early in the third quarter, but Arizona closed with a flourish and had a chance to get within one possession in the final seconds but was unable to get off a shot.

McDonald is shooting 3 for 15 and 2 for 6 from three-point range. The senior entered averaging 30 points over the past three games.

Stanford is seeking its first national championship since 1992 and third overall. The Wildcats are playing for their first national championship in program history.

Stanford builds 10-point lead over Arizona

11:31 p.m.
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Stanford got consecutive baskets from Haley Jones to cap a 10-5 run to take a 41-31 lead over Arizona.

The Cardinal was able to build the double-digit margin despite having starters Cameron Brink and Anna Wilson, the Pac-12 co-defensive player of the year, on the bench with three personal fouls each.

Wildcats star guard Aari McDonald continues to struggle, shooting 3 for 13. The senior has 10 points.

Stanford leads Arizona, 31-24, at halftime

11:04 p.m.
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The top-seeded Stanford women’s basketball team used an 11-0 run late in the second quarter to take a 31-24 lead at halftime over No. 3 seed Arizona in the national championship game at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Lexie Hull leads the Cardinal with eight points, and Ashten Prechtel came off the bench to score seven points to help Stanford overcome 10 turnovers, uncharacteristic for one of the country’s most disciplined teams.

Stanford played stifling defense on Wildcats star guard Aari McDonald, who shot 2 for 11 and rarely had clean looks at the basket, particularly in the painted area. McDonald entered averaging 30 points over the past three games.

Shaina Pellington leads Arizona with seven points, and McDonald added five.

Arizona rallies to take 21-20 lead over Stanford

10:54 p.m.
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Arizona rallied from an 11-point deficit to move in front of Stanford, 21-20, with 4:44 left until halftime of the national championship game.

The Wildcats used a 9-2 run to take the lead, capped by a steal and breakaway layup from reserve Shaina Pellington.

Cardinal starting forward Haley Jones has two fouls and went to the bench with 5:51 left in the second quarter. The Cardinal also has six turnovers.

Stanford leads Arizona, 16-8, after first quarter

10:40 p.m.
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Top-seeded Stanford got points from five players and limited No. 3 seed Arizona to three field goals on the way to a 16-8 lead after the first quarter of the women’s national championship game at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Lexie Hull and Haley Jones each scored four points for Stanford, which is seeking a third NCAA title. The Cardinal shot 44 percent and made 2 of 4 three-pointers.

The Wildcats made just 3 of 19 field goals (16 percent) and trailed by as much as 16-5 with 3:30 to play. Trinity Baptiste (five points) and Aari McDonald (three points), who missed four of her five field goal attempts, were the only players to score for Arizona.

Stanford goes on early 10-0 run against Arizona

10:29 p.m.
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The top-seeded Stanford women’s basketball team used a 10-0 shortly after tip-off to take a 12-3 lead with 6:11 left in the first quarter, leading to a timeout from Arizona Coach Adia Barnes.

The Cardinal scored its first six points in the paint, with Lexie Hull sinking a pair of jumpers, and got a three-pointer from sharpshooting reserve Ashten Prechtel during the burst in which it outrebounded No. 3 seed Arizona 6-3.

Aari McDonald’s three-pointer accounted for the Wildcats’ only points.

Stanford and Arizona finally get the national spotlight after being overshadowed all tournament

10:19 p.m.
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SAN ANTONIO — Before the Final Four, the NCAA created a promotional video to highlight the national semifinals and the teams still chasing a women’s basketball championship. Stanford, South Carolina and Connecticut were all prominently featured, but there was an odd omission — the Arizona Wildcats were nowhere to be seen.

Apologies came from the NCAA, but it was just another example of the lack of respect Arizona has felt throughout the season and into the tournament.

The Wildcats, however, are having the last laugh. The No. 3 seed will face No. 1 seed Stanford with the opportunity to win the first championship in program history. Sunday’s game will mark the first time two Pac-12 teams meet in the final game.

“We believed in ourselves; our Tucson community believed in us,” Arizona senior forward Sam Thomas said. “But then after going round by round, winning more, getting more love and then thinking that we finally got some respect and obviously the video and stuff . . . it kind of was like a dagger because I thought being in the Final Four we proved ourselves.”

How they got here: Arizona

10:00 p.m.
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NCAA tournament results: beat Stony Brook, 79-44; BYU, 52-46; Texas A&M, 74-59; Indiana, 66-53; Connecticut, 69-59

Final Four: Coach Adia Barnes and the Wildcats continued to reach new heights after toppling perennial powerhouse Connecticut to clinch the first national championship appearance in program history.

Outlook: Arizona is a defensive team first and watching them on that side of the ball is like poetry in motion. The extended, press-style defense that the Wildcats run usually makes teams susceptible to baskets off back cuts, but because of their quickness on the perimeter they successfully initiate traps on a regular basis. As a result, the sightlines of the ballhandler become so limited that when someone gets free on a cut they can’t see them.

When the traps are unsuccessful, the Wildcats do a great job of rotating and keeping their head on a swivel. Versus the Huskies — a team that thrives off movement and cuts toward the basket — Arizona’s extended pressure and defensive rotations caused Connecticut to catch the ball in uncomfortable positions which led to a 35.7 percent shooting performance.

On offense, the Wildcats are reminiscent of singing group Destiny’s Child. While Arizona’s supporting cast plays an integral part, the team’s success is solely dependent on the performance of its version of Beyoncé, Aari McDonald.

Through five tournament games, McDonald has hit all the right notes averaging 25.4 points and 6.8 rebounds. Should McDonald continue to play at a high level versus Stanford, the recipe for the remaining Wildcats is simple. They just have to hit enough shots to keep the defense honest. But should she struggle, things will get dicey.

Quotable: “We’re shooting the ball better, we’re defending better, we’re playing better basketball than we were when we played them.” — Barnes on whether the third time will be the charm versus Stanford

How they got here: Stanford

9:45 p.m.
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NCAA tournament results: beat Utah Valley, 87-44; Oklahoma State, 73-62; Missouri State, 89-62; Louisville, 78-63; South Carolina, 66-65

Final Four: Haley Jones scored 24 points to lead Stanford to its fifth national championship game appearance.

Outlook: With this being the third meeting between the two schools, Stanford enters Sunday’s game with a luxury that Arizona’s previous tournament foes didn’t have. The Cardinal has experienced Arizona’s smothering man-to-man defense and had great success against it. In the previous two games — both wins by Stanford — the Cardinal scored 81 points and 62 points, respectively, with an average margin of victory of 20.5 points.

Arizona has improved quite a bit since the teams last met, which is evident by the difference in scoring for the Cardinal. Regardless, there’s a comfort that comes with experience.

Stanford will need Kiana Williams to take a step back and allow the game to come to her. In the tournament, specifically the last two games, there have been times where the senior from San Antonio has abandoned the Cardinal’s usual free-flowing offense and forced shots. If that continues it will play into the hands of Arizona’s defense.

The defensive game plan is simple — stop Aari McDonald. All year long, Stanford has done a great job containing opponents’ best players. In the two previous meetings, McDonald has been held to 32 points on 26.1 percent shooting. A major catalyst for Arizona’s run in the tournament has been McDonald’s three-point shooting, but versus Stanford she’s struggled mightily, making just one of her 12 attempts. If Stanford can duplicate that performance, it should be raising a third national championship banner.

Quotable: “This whole year has been so weird. So to play a conference opponent for the national championship just fits in with the whole weirdness.” — Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer on the all Pac-12 Final

Stanford reached the Final Four after a season-long journey

9:00 p.m.
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When the NCAA announced Feb. 5 that the entire women’s basketball tournament would be relocating to Texas, Stanford players and coaches braced for yet another extended trip after a regular season in which they spent more time on planes and in hotels than in their own beds.

Nearly two months and thousands of miles later, the top-seeded Cardinal (29-2) is still playing, having taken up residency in San Antonio over the past three weeks with the next performance scheduled in the Final Four against South Carolina (26-4), also a No. 1 seed, Friday night.

“Our team has really gone through a lot this season,” said Cardinal fifth-year senior Anna Wilson, the Pac-12’s co-defensive player of the year. “Every team has, but I’ve only experienced our team and the adversity we’ve kind of gone through and being on the road and everything and how close we’ve gotten as a team.”

Semifinal highlights: Arizona stuns Connecticut

8:44 p.m.
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The third-seeded Arizona women’s basketball team secured a program-defining win Friday night, defeating top-seeded Connecticut, 69-59, in the Final Four behind a virtuoso performance from Aari McDonald and smothering defense against the 11-time national champions.

The Wildcats (21-5) advanced to their first national championship game Sunday night against Stanford, the No. 1 overall seed.

McDonald finished with 26 points on 7-for-17 shooting and added six rebounds. Arizona limited the Huskies (28-2) to 36 percent shooting. Connecticut came in leading the country in field goal shooting (52 percent) and was ranked fourth in scoring offense, averaging 82.7 points.

“I didn’t do anything different. I just kept playing my game, taking what the defense is giving me,” McDonald said. “I wanted to see how they played me. It’s not checkers. This is chess, so I’m always the next step ahead of my opponent. Nothing different, I’m just going to keep playing my game.”

Semifinal highlights: Stanford survives South Carolina

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SAN ANTONIO — Haley Jones, who led Stanford with 24 points, buried a go-ahead jumper from the wing with 32 seconds remaining to give the Cardinal a one-point lead that would prove to be the difference in a wild finish in the first game of the women’s Final Four on Friday.

South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston stole the ball with five seconds left, and Brea Beal sprinted to the other end but couldn’t finish a layup with one second remaining. Boston tried to put back the miss, but it bounced off the back of the iron.

Ballgame.

The Cardinal advanced to the NCAA tournament final with a 66-65 win over South Carolina and will play in the national championship game for the first time since 2010. Its last title came in 1992.

“It’s surreal. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet,” Jones said. “Everybody growing up, you wish to go to the national championship, play on the biggest stage in front of the biggest crowd against the best team. We know whoever comes out with a [win] tonight is going to be great competition for us on Sunday. We’re just kind of moving on. We’re excited. It’s surreal.”