Stanford players celebrate their 66-65 win Friday over South Carolina in the women’s Final Four in San Antonio. Eric Gay/Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — Haley Jones came up with a big shot, and Stanford got a little bit of luck to get back to the national championship game for the first time in 11 years.

Jones scored 24 points, including the go-ahead jumper with 32 seconds left, to help Stanford beat South Carolina 66-65 on Friday night and advance to the women’s NCAA Tournament championship game.

“It was a battle. It was a really tough game where we had to work really hard,” Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said.

It’s Stanford’s first trip to the title game since 2010, which was also in San Antonio. The Cardinal lost to UConn in that contest, 53-47. This time they’ll play Pac-12 rival Arizona, which beat UConn 69-59 in the late semifinal.

Leading by one, the Cardinal turned it over with 6.2 seconds left at midcourt, but South Carolina’s Brea Beal missed a contested layup as Lexie Hull hustled back to get in her way. Aliyah Boston grabbed the rebound, but her putback attempt also bounced off the rim, setting off a wild celebration by the Cardinal.

“It is nice to have a little karma go your way,” VanDerveer said.

VanDerveer, who earlier this season topped Pat Summitt’s all-time win mark of 1,098 victories, will be looking for her third national championship and first since 1992.

With her team trailing 65-64, Jones hit a jumper from the corner off a rebound.

“I just saw the ball bouncing around and most of my teammates were hitting some bodies to open it up. I just let it fly and I said, `Please, Jesus, go in,’ and it did,” said Jones, who was 11 for 14 from the field. “And then we just had to go on to the next play, there’s no time to get hyped about, we had to get back on defense.”

On the next possession, Boston had her shot blocked but got her own rebound. Then, with 15 seconds left, Destanni Henderson threw a pass that was stolen by Ashten Prechtel.

After an inbounds play, Cameron Brink lost the ball at midcourt to Boston, giving South Carolina those final two chances.

“We got a pretty decent, two looks at it, layup, follow up,” South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley said. “We just came up short. We lost the way we did and it’s heartbreaking.”

Jones and Fran Belibi ran to Boston, who was still standing under the basket, and both embraced her with a long hug after the buzzer sounded,

“Me, Fran and Aliyah, we’re best friends. We text every day. We talk all the time. We love competing against each other. I think us being so close really boosted our competitiveness against each other,” Jones said. “So, I mean, it was a hard-fought battle. She played great. We both played great. So, we just wanted to pay her the respect that she deserves.”

Henderson scored six straight points to give the Gamecocks (26-5) a 65-64 lead with 38.8 seconds left. She had a three-point play and a 3-pointer.

Zia Cooke finished with 25 points to lead South Carolina.

Despite the frenetic finish, VanDerveer felt that the first quarter was huge for the Cardinal.

Trailing 15-6 midway through the first quarter, Stanford scored the next nine points to tie the game heading into the second. The Gamecocks missed their final six shots of the quarter and were scoreless for the final 4:48.

“We know basketball teams have runs, so we can’t let that first quarter or the first five minutes dictate the whole game,” said Hull, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Stanford led 31-25 at the half.

Boston finished with 11 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks.

ARIZONA 69, UCONN 59: Aari McDonald scored 26 points and led a smothering defensive effort as the Wildcats beat UConn to advance to the championship game for the first time in school history.

The Wildcats never trailed against the favored and fabled Huskies, who have made the Final Four 13 consecutive times, but haven’t reached the championship game since 2016 when they won their 11th title.

Arizona held UConn to a season low in points, but still had to hold on after leading by 14 late in the third quarter as the Huskies made a late push. At the final buzzer, McDonald threw the ball high in the air and was mobbed by her teammates near center court. She shared a long hug with Coach Adia Barnes, who starred as a player at the school in the late 1990s.

The win made Barnes the first coach to lead her alma mater to the championship game since Sonja Hogg guided Louisiana Tech to the first NCAA title in 1982 and was the runner up in 1983.

“We just believed,” McDonald said. “It was that grit. We didn’t want to go home once again, and we’re proving it.”

As she has done throughout the tournament, McDonald did it all for the Wildcats with slashing drives, pinpoint shooting from long range, and a defensive intensity that held UConn’s star freshman Paige Bueckers in check in for long stretches.

Bueckers, The Associated Press player of the year, finished with 18 points, and her 3-pointer with 1:23 left got UConn within 60-55 before Arizona closed out the win with free throws.

Christyn Williams led UConn (28-2) with 20 points before fouling out.


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