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Aari McDonald, Arizona Wildcats soar to first-ever Final Four, top Indiana 66-53
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Final: Arizona 66, Indiana 53

Aari McDonald, Arizona Wildcats soar to first-ever Final Four, top Indiana 66-53

Arizona Wildcats guard Bendu Yeaney (23) blocks a shot by Indiana Hoosiers guard Nicole Cardano-Hillary (4) in the first half during the Elite Eight NCAA Tournament regional final game at The Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas on March 29, 2021.

The historic season continues.

Aari McDonald, Adia Barnes and the Arizona Wildcats’ women’s basketball team are bound for the Final Four for the first time in program history after the third-seeded UA beat No. 4 seed Indiana 66-53 in the Elite Eight on Monday in San Antonio.

Arizona (20-5) will face top-seeded UConn (28-1) on Friday for a spot in the national championship game.

Arizona Wildcats guard Aari McDonald (2) is surrounded by her teammates after she scores another career high in the second half during the Elite Eight NCAA Tournament regional final game at The Alamodome in San Antionio, Texas on March 29, 2021. Arizona wins 66-53 and is headed to the Final Four.

All eyes in Tucson were set on the Wildcats to compete at the highest level, including the UA football team that gathered at the Cole and Jeannie Davis Indoor Practice Center to watch the game on a projector screen. Former players a part of the UA basketball fraternity — men and women — showed their unwavering support on social media before and during the game.

On a stage neither school had experienced prior to this season, Arizona received an encore legendary performance from its star guard Aari McDonald, who finished the night with 33 points on 12-for-20 shooting; she added 11 rebounds and four assists; She’s scored in double figures in 91 straight games, the longest active streak in women’s college basketball.

Trinity Baptiste added 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting. Helena Pueyo added six points on two clutch 3-pointers, and finished with three rebounds and two blocks.

The University of Arizona Women's Basketball team ran through their opponents in the Pac-12 and straight into the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Video by Rick Wiley / Arizona Daily star

Cate Reese and Sam Thomas scored five points apiece.

Junior wing Bendu Yeaney, who transferred from Indiana prior to this season, scored three points on just one field-goal attempt but tabbed five rebound and an assist.

Arizona’s game came down to McDonald, who — for the second time in as many games — was up for the task. Her 33 points are the most-ever scored by a Wildcat in an NCAA Tournament, surpassing … well, herself. She scored 31 in Saturday’s upset of Texas A&M.

McDonald also moved ahead of Dee-Dee Wheeler to third on Arizona’s all-time scoring list with 1,990 points. McDonald will most likely finish her UA career steady at No. 3 behind Davellyn Whyte (2,059) and Barnes (2,237).

In the first quarter, McDonald shot 4-for-7 from the field made both of her 3-point attempts. McDonald knocked down her third attempt in the second quarter with a bank-shot at the top of the key while the shot clock wound down.

The Wildcats shot 38% from the field in the first half, while IU went 10-for-30 (30%) and 0-for-5 from 3-point range.

Arizona Wildcats forward Cate Reese (25) eyes the basket as she's defended by Indiana players in the first half during the Elite Eight NCAA Tournament regional final game at The Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas on March 29, 2021.

Reese and Baptiste each grabbed five rebounds in the first half, and Arizona went into the halftime break leading 27-23 — 20 minutes away from reaching another monumental milestone.

Arizona opened up the second half on an 8-4 run with the help from a Baptiste 3-pointer.

Baptiste scored eight of her 12 points in the third quarter

Indiana forward Mackenzie Holmes’ 10 third-quarter points coupled with a two-minute scoring drought by the UA allowed the Hoosiers to stay within striking distance, 46-44 going into the final 10 minutes.

With 2:35 left to play, McDonald appeared to suffer a left ankle injury after getting her foot caught between a defender while driving to the basket. The crowd hushed as McDonald left the floor. Trainers re-taped her ankle on the sideline and returned to the game with just under two minutes to play.

Arizona Wildcats forward Cate Reese (25) and Arizona Wildcats guard Bendu Yeaney (23) defend Indiana Hoosiers guard Grace Berger (34) in the first half during the Elite Eight NCAA Tournament regional final game at The Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas on March 29, 2021.

Reese fouled out late, but Indiana couldn’t catch up. The Hoosiers went three-plus minute scoring drought, and the Wildcats were able to squeeze out the win to advance to their first-ever Final Four.

History made.

The next opponent will present a herculean task as the Wildcats are going toe-to-toe with top-ranked UConn, a program led by Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma. The Huskies are playing in their 13th consecutive Final Four. The Huskies won their region on Monday, outlasting fellow powerhouse Baylor in the final seconds.

Friday’s tipoff time has not yet been announced. Both Final Four games will air on ESPN.

Contact sports content producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or jspears@tucson.com. On Twitter @justinesports


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Justin writes stories and produces digital content about UA football and basketball and high school football. A Tucson native, Justin graduated from the UA in 2017 and is the host of the Wildcast Podcast and a radio host on ESPN Tucson.

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