Story by Cassie Campise
Arizona senior Aari McDonald led the Wildcats to their first NCAA championship game in program history with her outstanding performance against No.1 Connecticut on Friday night.
As she has done all year, McDonald made many key contributions to help the Wildcats win 69-59 against the Huskies. From the first whistle of the game, to the end, she was the best player on the court with 26 points, seven rebounds, and shooting 4-9 from three-point range.
Before the game, University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma knew what was in store in the matchup and how difficult it would be to control McDonald with her postseason performance so far in the tournament, scoring more than 30 points in the previous two games.
“She’s a tremendous individual and I don’t know that there’s anything that any one team, or any one player I should say, has been able to do to completely stop her from doing what she wants to do,” Auriemma said. “Our staff feels like this is probably the most dominant guard that we will have played against this year. No question.”
As advertised, McDonald showed up. The Huskies could not stop the 2020-2021 Pac-12 Player of the Year. After the game, she celebrated the huge win with head coach Adia Barnes and the rest of her team.
— NCAA Women’s Basketball (@ncaawbb) April 3, 2021
McDonald was not always a Wildcat but has always been close with her head coach. In high school, McDonald was recruited by Barnes when she was an assistant coach at Washington. In 2016 when Barnes took the head coaching position at her alma mater in Tucson, McDonald transferred a year later.
“There is no other player that impacts the game on both ends of the floor more,” Barnes said. “There is no other player, for 37 minutes, that presses full court and gets steals, rebounds, all these things that she does.”
McDonald’s next focus is to win the NCAA championship against Stanford on Sunday at 3 p.m. and make more history for the Arizona women’s basketball program. With the duo at the forefront, they believe that anything is possible against the Cardinal.
“I can’t even describe the adversity, myself, and my teammates went through,” said McDonald of getting to this point in her career. “Looking back and reflecting, it’s amazing how resilient we are. We never gave up, we kept faith, and worked our tails off. We trust each other and we’d do anything for each other. You see how that came about and we are sticking to that. It’s been a crazy three to four years here.”