Aari McDonald's 33 points leads No. 3 Arizona to first Final Four in program history

·4 min read

No. 3 Arizona is heading to its first Final Four in program history. 

The Wildcats took off with another double-double from senior guard Aari McDonald and edged No. 4 Indiana, 66-53, in the second quarterfinal of the night.  

Arizona and Indiana both played in their first Elite Eight in program history. Arizona is the ninth first-timers to the semifinals in the last 10 years. The Wildcats, led by alumna Adia Barnes, will play No. 1 seed UConn in the Final Four on Friday. The last time they made a deep run in the tournament Barnes was on the court and Arizona lost to UConn in the 1998 Sweet 16. 

McDonald comes back from ankle injury 

Arizona has been on the slow rise over the past few years with McDonald leading the charge. She transferred from Washington after a near .500 season by the Wildcats in 2016-17 and sat out the six-win campaign the following year. They won 24 games each of her first two seasons and are 20-5 heading to more history now. 

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She scored a season-high 33 points on 12-for-20 shooting, made five of six 3-point attempts and added 11 rebounds, four assists and a steal. That final steal turned and-1 at the other end sealed Arizona's lead and win in the final minute. 

"It just took team effort. Fight. No one believed we could be here except for us, on Aari's back," Barnes said post-game. "Aari has just led this program to new heights. I'm just so proud because these were hard games and we found a way. it wasn't perfect but we found a way to win and I'm just speechless right now."

McDonald, a Pac-12 defensive and overall player of the year, injured her ankle with 2:35 on the clock and left the game with the Wildcats leading by seven. She walked off on her own power without much of a limp to get worked on at the trainer's table and checked back in 40 seconds of game time later, the score still the same. 

It didn't slow her much and she scored or assisted on 16 of Arizona's 24 made baskets. That 67 percent mark tied Destinee Wells of Belmont for most of the tournament, per Her Hoop Stats.   

Her heads-up play under the basket gave Arizona the lead heading into the fourth quarter. She swiped the ball from Indiana on the rebound to put the Wildcats up, 46-44. 

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Indiana tied it out of the break and Arizona used back-to-back 3-pointers by Helena Pueyo and McDonald to go back up by six. Berger cut the lead and the Wildcats answered again with a Pueyo 3-pointer and assist by McDonald. She scored six points in the final 1:36 and Bendu Yeaney added three, including a basket in transition that finished a turnover-turned-tap pass by Pueyo. 

Trinity Baptiste was the only other Wildcat in double figures with her own double-double of 12 point sand 10 rebounds. Cate Reese, who fouled out late in the fourth, and Sam Thomas were kept to two baskets each. 

Arizona had a slight lead on Indiana throughout a chippy contest. The Wildcats were up 27-23 at the half with McDonald scoring 17 of their points. 

Indiana's run program's best

Indiana reached the Elite Eight with an efficient offensive outing against No. 1 seed N.C. State, but it wasn't there against Arizona. They shot 36.4 percent, but missed all nine of their 3-point attempts while Arizona was 9-for-21. 

Sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes led with 20 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Her back-to-back lay-ins early in the second quarter gave the Hoosiers a 17-4 lead, their largest of the game. McDonald hit a 3 to tie it and the Wildcats built their small halftime lead. 

Holmes made the layup with 1:08 left in the third that tied it, only to be answered again by McDonald. 

Junior guard Grace Berger added 15 and four assists. And senior Ali Patberg had 12 points, four rebounds, three assists and one steal in what's likely to be her final game as a Hoosier.  

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