🏀Preview: Gonzaga vs. Baylor Men's March Madness Final
How we got here: Saturday’s first semifinal was something of a “gimme,” with Baylor winning 78–59 over Houston. The second semi was anything but. It took an overtime period and a from Jalen Suggs to give Gonzaga, the country’s best team, the 93–90 win over , UCLA. Chills.
The finalists: While the first few rounds of the men’s tournament were full of surprises (our brackets never stood a chance), the final matchup is hardly a shock. Baylor and Gonzaga are both No. 1 seeds, and were atop many prediction lists heading into the tournament.
- Gonzaga has a perfect record in 2020-21, winning 24 straight regular season games and the West Coast Conference (WCC) championship title. If they win tonight, they’ll be the first undefeated team since 1976 to win it all.
- Baylor, meanwhile, entered the tournament with a 21-1 regular season record, and while this is just one great season in a spate of strong seasons, this is Baylor’s first national championship appearance since 1948.
⛳Patty Tavatanakit is the 2021 ANA Inspiration champion
The champ: The 21-year-old rookie led the tournament from day one. With her 18-under final score, she was just one stroke off the all-time record for the lowest score on this course, and managed to hold off former world No. 1 Lydia Ko’s .
- With the win, Tavatanakit became just the second golfer (of any gender) from Thailand to win a major. Something special.
The future stars: While the pros were playing in California, some pretty amazing amateurs made their mark in Georgia ahead of this week’s Masters PGA tournament. Japan's Tsubasa Kajitani won the on Saturday in a .
🏀Take a bow
The GIST: After two jaw-dropping, record-breaking, game-changing weeks (and incredibly difficult COVID-19-ravaged regular seasons), the Stanford Cardinal won the NCAA women’s March Madness tournament last night.
The game: The pairing of steadfast No. 1 Stanford and feisty No. 3 Arizona in the final was nothing short of thrilling. Stanford started strong in their first final since 2010, and led underdog Arizona for the majority of the game, mostly due to their stifling defense on Arizona star Aari McDonald.
- Despite McDonald only going 5 for 21 from the field, Arizona’s defense kept them in the mix the entire game. But, it was Stanford who came out on top, hanging on to a 54–53 lead and winning their first championship since 1992.
- With the win, coach Tara VanDerveer locked in her third title in 35 seasons and Stanford sophomore guard Haley Jones was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring a team-leading 17 points last night.
The impact: Let’s take a step back for a minute and process the impact of this year’s tournament. From Oregon Duck Sedona Prince’s viral videos calling out disparity and leading real change to record increases in viewership in a time of declining TV ratings, the women’s tournament was a literal gamechanger.
- It felt like everyone was tuned in, including some of sports’ biggest stars: tennis legend Billie Jean King, NFLer JJ Watt and NBA icon Magic Johnson were dazzled by the tournament, while former POTUS Barack Obama filled out a bracket.
- Social media engagement hit new highs, female athletes racked up huge numbers of followers and new fans were born everywhere. March Madness has been a joyous ode to women’s basketball, and we can’t wait for the next one. Only 355 days to go.
🏀And then there were two
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Honestly, Coach Barnes hates when I take threes on the first possession. But, I mean, she’s not going to tell me to stop shooting when I’m feeling it from downtown.”
— Arizona senior guard Aari McDonald (pronounced AIR-EE), who sunk a three on their first possession in Friday’s Final Four win. Something tells us head coach Adia Barnes would love to see it again today.
Before we get to today’s game, let’s look back at Friday’s epic semis. As a heavy favorite to win the whole shebang, Stanford’s ticket to the final seemed like a lock...until they lost their lead to South Carolina with 41 seconds remaining.
- However, Haley Jones nailed a jumper a few seconds later to put Stanford back in front and South Carolina missed their opportunities in the final seconds, leading to a 66–65 Cardinal win. Truly heartbreaking.
In the second semi, Paige Bueckers (pronounced BECKERS) and UConn were heavily favored to win the matchup, but underdog Arizona — making their first-ever Final Four appearance — had other plans. Arizona won 69–59, stunning UConn and basketball fans everywhere.
⛹️♀️ The finalists
The favorites: Following a 25-2 regular season record, many fans and analysts said March Madness was Stanford’s to lose. Three weeks later, those predictions still ring true.
- Despite being unable to play in the comfort of their home stadium this year, Stanford won the Pac-12 Conference championship for the 14th (!!!) time, earning a bid to the NCAA tournament.
dogscats: After a 16-5 regular season, the Arizona Wildcats entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed in the Mercado region. They blew past a stacked No. 2 Texas A&M team in the Sweet Sixteen and spunky No. 4 Indiana in the Elite Eight, before Friday’s Final Four rout of UConn.
- The Wildcats making the title game was so unexpected that they weren’t even included in the Final Four promo video. How rude. But don’t let that careless omission deceive you: this team is here to win.
⭐️ The difference makers
Haley Jones, Stanford: The Cardinal are in the championship because of Jones. Not just thanks to the last-minute points she scored in the semifinal game, but because of her dominant play throughout the tournament. She scored 24 points on just 14 shots on Friday night — her shooting percentage was nearly twice as good as her team’s.
Aari McDonald, Arizona: The Pac-12 Player of the Year and two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is also the top scorer of the tournament. In her attention-grabbing Final Four performance, she racked up 26 points and seven rebounds.
Coach Tara VanDerveer, Stanford: The winningest coach in women’s Division I basketball, VanDerveer is wrapping up her 35th season leading the Cardinal. A steadfast figure in the fight for equality, Coach V is looking for her third championship win and first since 1992.
Coach Adia Barnes, Arizona: The fifth-year coach is looking for her full circle moment. After playing for Arizona in the mid-90s, setting 22 school records and going on to win the 2004 WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm, Barnes returned to her alma mater to do what she couldn’t as a player: win the NCAA tournament.
🔑 The keys to winning
Stanford: The Cardinal need to score three-pointers. It’s as simple — and difficult — as that. They’ve already set the record for most three-pointers in a single tournament and, with Arizona’s tight defense around the rim, Stanford will be forced to pull back and shoot from downtown.
Arizona: The Wildcats’ defense stifled some of the tournament’s best offensive players in UConn’s Bueckers and Christyn Williams. They’ll need to repeat that performance to hold off Jones et al. and give themselves chances to score on the rebound.
🎉 The final
West-coasters, rejoice: Today’s game marks the first time two Pac-12 teams have met in the final. This is Stanford’s first championship game appearance since 2010, which isn’t terribly long considering this is Arizona’s first appearance period.
- Stanford has the advantage here. Head-to-head, they beat Arizona twice in the regular season, and they have history on their side.
- But Arizona is playing with a chip on their shoulder, and after being overlooked by the media for most of the tournament, let’s not forget that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
The game tips off at 6 p.m. ET on TSN5 in Canada and ESPN in the US (because heaven forbid a women’s national championship makes it to network television). Grab your #BetOnWomen apparel and tune in.
The GIST's Quick Hits - CA (April 1, 2021)
🎾Tennis: Bianca Andreescu is back. In her strongest showing since returning from a 15-month injury leave in January, the 2019 U.S. Open winner won her quarterfinal match to Sara Sorribes Tormo at the Miami Open last night. World-ranked No. 9 Andreescu will now play No. 25 Maria Sakkari (who just beat No. 2 Naomi Osaka...) in today’s semifinal scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET. C’mon!
🏈NFL: The league has officially agreed to a . Good. Now that that’s settled, we have bigger fish to fry: Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson now faces for sexual assault and innappropriate behavior, while 18 women have . Solid chance Deshaun sees zero games this season. Boy bye.
🏀NBA: The Toronto Raptors are the happiest group of people to see April arrive because March was truly miserable. They lost Norman Powell (who wrote a to the entire country), Kyle Lowry is out for a week with hurt feelings a foot infection, and the Raptors won one game...in the entire month. Good riddance, March.