Stanford holds off Arizona 54-53 to win women’s NCAA title

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Stanford players celebrate on the River Walk after defeating Arizona 54-53 in the championship game of the women's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, April 4, 2021, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP) – Tara VanDerveer hugged each of her Stanford players as they climbed the ladder to cut down the nets, capping a taxing whirlwind journey and ending an exhausting championship drought for the Cardinal.

It took 29 years, that included 10 weeks on the road this season because of the coronavirus, for VanDerveer and the Cardinal to be crowned NCAA women's basketball champions again.

“We had some special karma going for us,” VanDerveer said. “Had the comeback against Louisville, dodge a bullet against South Carolina, dodge bullet against Arizona. Sometimes you have to be lucky. I’ll admit it, we were very fortunate to win.”

Haley Jones scored 17 points and Stanford beat Arizona 54-53, giving the Cardinal and their Hall of Fame coach their first national championship since 1992 on Sunday night.

“Getting through all the things we got through, we’re excited to win the COVID championship," VanDerveer said. ”The other one was not quite as close, the last one. But we’re really excited. No one knows the score, no one knows who scored, it’s a national championship."

It wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch with both teams struggling to score and missing easy layups and shots, but Stanford did just enough to pull off the win — it's second straight by a point.

Stanford (31-2) built a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter before Arizona (21-6) cut it to 51-50 on star guard Aari McDonald's 3-pointer.

After a timeout, Jones answered with a three-point play with 2:24 left. That would be Stanford's last basket of the game. McDonald got the Wildcats with 54-53 with 36.6 seconds left converting three of four free throws.