SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Aari McDonald scored 33 points and No. 3 seed Arizona beat fourth-seeded Indiana 66-53 on Monday night to earn its first trip to the Final Four of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
McDonald, the Pac-12 player of the year, did everything for the Wildcats, from slashing drives to a banked-in 3-pointer. She briefly left the game with a twisted ankle with 2:35 left, but limped back on and scored six more points. Her three-point play with 34 seconds left put the exclamation point on the victory.
Arizona (20-5) advanced to Friday’s national semifinal against top-seeded UConn, which reached its 13th straight Final Four when it beat No. 2 seed Baylor earlier Monday night.
“Aari, I asked her to do everything. She has done everything the whole time she’s been here,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said of her senior guard, who transferred from Washington when the Wildcats had one of the worst teams in the Pac-12.
“And I’m proud of all of these young women around her. They fight and they play for her, and it’s just amazing,” Barnes said.
McDonald topped 30 points for the second straight tournament game. She scored 31 against Texas A&M two days earlier. Against the Hoosiers, she was 12 of 20 shooting and made 5 of 6 3-pointers.
“I always want to be better than I was the day before,” McDonald said.
Arizona made consecutive 3-pointers in the middle of the fourth quarter, the latter from Helena Pueyo off a bullet pass from McDonald, for a 57-50 lead in what had been a tight, basket-for-basket game. Pueyo made two 3-pointers in the final quarter.
The Hoosiers never led and went scoreless for nearly four minutes after pulling even at 48-48 in the fourth.
Mackenzie Holmes scored 20 points for Indiana (21-6), which was playing its first Elite Eight game.
The tension of the biggest night in program history for both teams showed early in a timid, ragged start as the first 10 shots of the game misfired before McDonald finally got a short jumper to fall. Once McDonald started heating up, she scored 10 points in carrying the Wildcats to a 14-11 lead to start the second quarter.
The Hoosiers methodically worked the ball to Holmes in the post to control the pace of play. But McDonald banked in a long 3-pointer to beat the shot clock early in the quarter and Arizona led 27-23 at halftime.
Two 3-pointers from McDonald and Trinity Baptiste pushed the lead to eight early in the third, before Holmes pulled Indiana back in it again with with 10 points in the quarter. McDonald ripped a rebound from the hands of an Indiana player and an easy layup sent Arizona into the fourth leading 46-44.
Indiana shot 36% and was 0 of 9 on 3-pointers. The Hoosiers got zero points off their bench.