Outgoing Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott was very proud to be in San Antonio to celebrate the conference’s first NCAA women’s basketball championship since 1992.
With Stanford facing Arizona on Sunday night for the national title, the conference was guaranteed its first champion since Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer and the Cardinal won it all in 1992. Stanford got another Sunday night by beating Arizona 54-53.
“I think this is a very gratifying moment for our league that’s seen the rise of Pac-12 women’s basketball over the last decade,” Scott said in an interview with The Associated Press before the game. “Last year would have been a special year as we had a very special team in Oregon. The conference has grown very deep.”
Scott credits the growth of the conference, which has had six different schools reach the Final Four since 2013, to the increased television coverage with the Pac-12 Network for the success. He said the league had five games total on TV during the year with no streaming before the creation of the network.
“Now we’ve had over 100 games on the networks each year since 2012,” Scott said. “That’s an investment and prioritization. Our coaches wouldn’t hesitate to tell you that national exposure and recognition are very important for recruiting. No league has more television coverage than the Pac-12.”
VanDerveer agrees. She said before the network, the league still had great teams but a lot of people didn't see them. That resulted in lesser seedings in the NCAA Tournament.
“The rest of the country has been able to see our teams and see our players and see our games,” VanDerveer said."
President Joe Biden chimed in on Twitter with congratulations to both Stanford and Arizona after the game.
“This year, every college team went through a uniquely challenging season but Coach VanDerveer’s team shows how grit and tenacity can prevail,” Biden wrote.
Tiger Woods, who played golf at Stanford, also shared his congrats to the Cardinal and VanDerveer on Twitter.
“What a win. Home of Champions! Go Card!” Woods wrote.
Tara VanDerveer has won 1,125 games and now three national championships. Experience doesn't make the final seconds of big games any easier.
She had compared the final nine seconds against South Carolina in the semifinals to going through a root canal. Sunday night with Stanford up 54-53 and Arizona having the ball with 6.1 seconds left for the final shot and the victory was just as painful.
“I was back in that dentist chair,” VanDerveer said. “I mean it was painful. The fact that when we had the ball we need to hang onto it and at least get a shot up. At least we held onto the ball for a while. That's the way basketball is. If you've got a faint heart or weak stomach, then don't coach.”
END OF THE BUBBLE
Stanford dealt with the impact of COVID on the basketball season more than any women's team that played this season.
Sophomore forward Asthten Prechtel has a ton of things she wants to do first outside of the restrictions required to complete the season during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The main thing is I’ll be able to go home for a little bit of time, which would be nice to see my family,” Prechtel said.
In late November, Santa Clara County established COVID-19 health and safety protocols prohibiting practices and competitions. So the Cardinal hit the road and spent nearly 10 weeks away from campus. Freshman forward Cameron Brink said she feels that's been an advantage for Stanford in the bubble in San Antonio.
“I just want to give my parents a big ole hug and can’t wait to hold my family, and I get emotional thinking about it," Brink said. “But it’s just been so long, so I just miss my family.”
PELETON AWAITS MOM
Arizona coach Adia Barnes gets lots of great advice from Tara VanDerveer and she plans to follow through on tip from the veteran Stanford coach this offseason.
“She’s also someone that’s talked me into getting a Peloton bike. I don’t use it as much as her obviously, but I’m trying,” Barnes said. “That’s the goal in the offseason.”
But Barnes had more pressing demands immediately after game.
She had her second child in September, and her baby girl could be heard crying at times during the title game. Barnes said she took one week off after having her baby, not a month, and was on Zoom calls four days after having a C-section. Barnes said her daughter was waiting, not so patiently.
“I have a baby here, you can hear her crying, ready to feed,” said Barnes, the fourth Black female to lead a team to the national title game. “I represent moms. You can be coach, be at an elite level. You just have to have a village like I do. I represent Black females who don’t get her too often or don’t get opportunities.”
TOURNEY'S MEMORABLE MOMENTS
ESPN made sure to remember all of the big moments in this women's NCAA Tournament, both good and the bad.
As the Stanford Cardinal posed around the national championship trophy Sunday night with another round of confetti raining down, ESPN broadcast a highlight reel starting with the single rack of dumbbells and yoga mats made infamous by Oregon's Sedonia Prince.
Great passes and big shots. The emotional wins and upsets got their air time, including Indiana upsetting N.C. State and Texas A&M's loss in the Sweet 16 to eventual national runner-up Arizona. There was the big freshmen showdown between Iowa's Caitlin Clark and UConn's Paige Bueckers.
The no-call on DiJonnai Carrington in Baylor's one-point loss to UConn in the River Walk final complete with coach Kim Mulkey telling a reporter, “Then write it like that.” South Carolina's two misses in its semifinal loss to Stanford with the tears of Aliyah Boston, and Arizona knocking off UConn.
Of course the capper was Stanford's celebration with the trophy of course.
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25