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NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament 2021: Arizona and Stanford face off in finale

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It will be a Pac-12 showdown tonight. Though the Mystics aren’t picking anyone in the draft this year (and I don’t think the top stars are fits either), it will be a great game to see nevertheless.

Arizona v Connecticut
Aari McDonald has led the Arizona Wildcats to their first NCAA women’s basketball tournament championship game appearance in school history.
Photo by Ben Solomon via Getty Images

The 2021 NCAA women’s basketball championship game is tonight between the No. 3 (Mercado Region) seeded Arizona Wildcats (21-5) and No. 1 (Alamo Region) seeded Stanford Cardinal (30-2). You can watch the game tonight at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Who are the top WNBA Draft prospects?

The top two players to see from a 2021 draft lens are Arizona senior guard Aari McDonald (20.5 ppg and 4.1 apg) and Stanford senior guard Kiana Williams (14.3 ppg and 3.1 apg). Both are expected to be first round picks, but they’re also likely going to be picked in the second half of this year’s draft, depending on how the draft eligibility pool looks.

All winter college athletes who played in the 2019-20 NCAA season were given a blanket waiver which included an extra year of eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact, so you can look at the WNBA’s draft consideration list here.

While McDonald is the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Williams has emerged as one of Stanford’s best point guards herself, neither are good fits for the Washington Mystics, who already have Natasha Cloud and Leilani Mitchell at the point guard position. In fact, Washington isn’t picking in the 2021 Draft as of now. It’s possible they could get a pick via trade, but that is unlikely given Washington’s current roster and championship aspirations.

The 2021 WNBA Draft will be on April 15.

Still, if you watch this game for the future pros, please take a look at Stanford sophomore forward Haley Jones (13.1 ppg and 7.4 rpg). She won’t be eligible for the draft this year, but she could be someone whom the Mystics could take a closer look at over the next couple years.

What are the main storylines for the game?

This is going to be an All-Pac 12 affair with two of the nation’s best defensive teams slugging it out. Arizona only gives up 55 points a game and allows opponents to shoot 36.7 percent from the field. Stanford has only allowed opponents to score 53.8 points at a 33 percent rate.

The Cardinal are perennially one of the NCAA’s top programs and will look for their third championship, though it will be their first since 1992 under Naismith Hall of Fame head coach Tara VanDerveer. They will be heavily favored to win tonight after beating Arizona by double digits in each of their head-to-head matches on Jan. 1 and Feb. 22.

That said, the Wildcats have made their first NCAA championship and are firing on all cylinders after a 69-59 upset win over Connecticut in the semifinals on Friday with McDonald scoring 26 points for the Wildcats in what was otherwise a defensive clinic on the Huskies, who never led in the game. If you are rooting for underdogs, Arizona will be your team.

Their head coach, Adia Barnes has also led the program to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005 this season —- and they’re now in the championship game! (They would have definitely made the tournament last year if it weren’t for the coronavirus). Barnes also played at Arizona herself before her professional playing career, including in the WNBA. She was a trailblazer herself as a college player, where Arizona made their first NCAA tournament appearance in 1997 and left as their career-leading scorer and rebounder.

If you are looking for a DMV-related reason to root for the Wildcats, look no further than the Maryland Terrapins women’s basketball team. Head coach Brenda Frese played three seasons for the Wildcats herself from 1989-92.