Stanford, Arizona both missed chances on their head-scratching final possessions

The possession entered the official play-by-play as a “Stanford turnover: shot-clock violation.”.

The Cardinal, thanks to a lackadaisical final 30 seconds of possession, gave the Arizona Wildcats the ball back with 6.1 seconds left. Down one, 54-53, they were one shot (or two free throws) from snatching a championship from the Cardinal in the women’s NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

That obviously did not happen. Stanford survived, thanks to strong initial defense on the inbound pass to Arizona superstar Aari McDonald, who caught the ball with her back to the basket. Stanford’s Anna Wilson didn’t allow McDonald to penetrate and find a lane to the basket. A triple-team consisting of the Cardinal’s Cameron Brink and Lexie Hull swarmed her from both sides, and McDonald heaved a prayer over them.

The ball hit the back of the rim and fell out of the cylinder as the buzzer sounded. McDonald sprawled on the floor in despair. Stanford was jubilant.

Unfortunately for Arizona and McDonald, everybody – especially Stanford – knew she would have the ball in her hands.

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Arizona coach Adia Barnes wouldn’t have it any other way, she told reporters after the game.

“It was Aari or nothing,” she said.

Who could blame Barnes? Sure, McDonald – despite scoring a game-high 22 points – had gone 1-for-11 on two-point attempts (4-for-9 from three) and missed four of 12 free throws. But she is the Wildcats’ senior leader. Their best scorer. The Pac-12 player of the year, who’d had 93 consecutive games with more than 10 points.

“We’d been on Aari’s back the whole tournament so she’s got to take that shot,” she said.

“I got denied hard,” McDonald said. “I tried to turn the corner, they sent three at me. I took a tough, contested shot and it didn’t fall.”.

As for the Stanford mishap — one of 21 turnovers on the night for the Cardinal — that made Arizona’s last chance a possibility: McDonald had sunk two free throws to make it a one-point game, and the Cardinal had called timeout to set up the possession.

The ball wound up in the hands of guard Kiana Williams. She dribbled. And dribbled. And dribbled. With three seconds left on the shot clock, she forced a pass to the high post that was tipped. The shot clock expired as the ball rolled toward midcourt and out of bounds.

Barnes called timeout and dialed up a play for McDonald. She heaved it.

“It was the longest second,” Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said of McDonald’s shot. “We’re very fortunate to win.”.

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Contributing: Associated Press.

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.