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The Wildcats never trailed from the favored and fabled Huskies, who have left the Final Four 13 successive times, but have not made the championship match since 2016 once UConn won its 11th name.
The win created Barnes the first coach to lead her alma mater into the championship match since Sonja Hogg led Louisiana Tech into the first NCAA title in 1982 and was the runner up in 1983.
Arizona (21-5) will play with Stanford for the name on Sunday night at an all Pac-12 final.
Paige BueckersGetty Images
“We simply believed,” McDonald explained. “It had been grit. We didn’t want to go home once more, and we are proving it”
As she’s done throughout the tournament, McDonald did it all for the Wildcats with slashing drives, slip shooting from long variety, and a defensive strength which held UConn’s celebrity freshman Paige Bueckers in check in for extended stretches.
Bueckers, The Associated Press player of the year, finished with 18 points and her 3-pointer with 1:23 left UConn over 60-55 at the final two minutes before Arizona closed out the win with free throws. Christyn Williams headed UConn (28-2) with 20 points before fouling out.
The 2 programs had met once before in the tournamentback in 1998 when Barnes had been the Wildcats point guard. UConn won this matchup and it’s Barnes and Arizona taking the next big step into a tournament.
No one thought we’d win, no one thought we’d be here. We do not care. We believed in each other. We thought our staff believed.
UConn, which has no seniors in the lineup, started slow since the Huskies looked tentative in the function of favorite. McDonald and the Wildcats appeared poised for their second after being left out of the NCAA’s Final Four promotional video on Twitter which had featured the 3 other groups but not them.
UConn had four early turnovers and missed its first five shots ahead of Bueckers made a 3-pointer to settle the offense, even if only temporarily. McDonald, started the match with a 3-pointer, created another 2 minutes afterwards, and scored eight since the Wildcats led 16-10 following the first quarter.
McDonald pumped in two from long range at the second quarter and the Wildcats led 32-22 at halftime. Bueckers was unable to find any looks in the basket and finished the half with only four shots and 3 things.
McDonald cooled off at the third with just two points on two free throws. However, Arizona briefly stretched its lead to 48-34 before UConn obtained a 3-pointer from Evina Westbrook to help pull the Huskies back in nine to begin the fourth.