World news – Banner year for Pac-12 as Arizona, Stanford meet for the NCAA women’s title

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SAN ANTONIO – The last time Tara VanDerveer and Stanford played for a national championship, the Pac -12 only 10 schools and the cardinal was the standard bearer of the conference.

Now, 11 years later, the Pac-12 is at the top of the women’s basketball world. The cardinal will face Arizona on Sunday night to take the title. The conference is guaranteed to be its first champion since the Hall of Fame trainer and cardinal, who won his last title in 1992.

« I’m really proud of the Pac-12 to have two teams in the national championship game, » said VanDerveer. “You know, this is not something that a lot of people could have imagined … 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago. And it’s really, really exciting.  »

Stanford was the last in the title game in 2010, losing to UConn at the Alamodome – the same building the Cardinal will play on Sunday night. The conference became a year later after the expansion to the Pac-12. The league has had six different schools in the Final Four since 2013, but none reached the title game until Friday night when Stanford and Arizona advanced.

« At Pac-12, we’ve been saying all along that we have the best teams in the country and that having two Pac-12 teams speaks for itself, » said Adia Barnes, Arizona coach. “Stanford won the Pac-12 championship and we were second. Both of us in the Final Four and in the championship game mean a lot to our conference.  »

To get to the game on Sunday evening, Cardinal South Carolina (66-65) held onto a Haley Jones basket with a 32-second lead on Friday evening. After Jones’ shot but the Cardinal, Stanford survived two last-second misses by the Gamecocks.

Arizona didn’t need last-minute karma to beat the Huskies, 69-59. Wildcats All-America Aari McDonald scored 26 points, and the team played a suffocating defense to pinch UConn.

« Nobody thought we were going to win. Nobody thought we were here, » said Barnes. « We don’t care. We believed in each other. We believed. Our team believed. »

McDonald was a big reason for that. The lightning-fast 5-foot-6 guard is one of the rare two-way players in the game who can interact with competitions at either end of the court.

On Sunday evening, for the first time since 1986, two teams from the west of the Mississippi will face each other.

Arizona lost twice to Stanford during the regular season, but both teams have improved significantly from their last meeting on February 22, which the Cardinal won 62:48.

« What we have on our side is that it’s difficult to beat a team three times in a season, » said Barnes. « We’re a lot better and so are Stanford. When we talk about ourselves, we shoot better, defend better, and play better basketball than we were when we played them. »

Barnes has reached out to VanDerveer several times over the course of the season for advice. The Arizona coach’s respect goes back to her playing with the Wildcats in the late 1990s.

« She is someone who will always be honest, and it is never honest to be of benefit to Stanford, » said Barnes. « She’s someone who wants to support you. She’s very safe and wants to help women develop and grow the game. She is a champion of women’s basketball and I have the greatest respect for her. »

Barnes was the fourth black woman to lead a team to the championship game, along with C. Vivian Stringer, Carolyn Peck and Dawn Staley of Fayette County.

« It only means the world. I think I represent a lot of different things, but representation is important, opportunities are important. If we get the opportunity, we can thrive, ”said Barnes. “A (sports director) who believed in a young coach who’s only been training for five years gave me the opportunity. This is only my fifth year as head coach. I was a five year old assistant, a 13 year old professional.

« Someone believed in me and saw something in me that I might not even have seen in myself at the time. »

There were also two black men who led teams to the women’s final four. Quentin Hillsman led Syracuse to the title game in 2016, and Winthrop McGriff brought Cheney to the national semifinals in 1984.

Only 13 black women were head coaches in Power Five programs this season. Barnes said there is a perception that black female coaches are only recruiters as the majority of their players are black.

« We can recruit, but we are not just recruiters, » Barnes said before giving advice to other black coaches. Learn, work on your profession, study, attract someone as a woman, as a woman of color. Aim big, do big things. Don’t let yourself be classified into one thing.  »

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