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Aari McDonald sinks game-winning layup to lift No. 13 Arizona past No. 4 Stanford

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 27 Women’s UCLA at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Aari McDonald banked in a layup with nine seconds left in overtime and No. 13 Arizona beat No. 4 Stanford 73-72 on Friday for its first-ever win over a top-5 team.

“We continue to say leave a legacy,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “And that’s what we do.”

Battling a nagging ankle injury, McDonald finished with 20 points, 13 in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“I’m just fine,” McDonald said about playing through the injury. “Just the bigger picture. It’s not about me. It’s about my team. Whatever I can do to help, even if I play less minutes or didn’t score a lot, I don’t care. If I can make an impact on tonight’s game, that’s all that matters. I didn’t want no excuse. If I’m gonna play, I’m gonna go 100 percent. I just found a way and I thank my teammates and my coach for believing in me.”

Sam Thomas had 17 points, 15 in the fourth and overtime, and made a 3 to put Arizona up 71-64. The Cardinal roared back with an 8-0 run in 45 seconds to recapture a lead before McDonald drove for the game-winning bucket.

Dominique (McBryde), I don’t know if everyone saw her emotions after the end of the game,” Thomas said. “She’s been harping all the time she’s been here how badly she wants to beat Stanford. At Purdue, they played them like three times or something like that. Once in the NCAA tournament, they lost. So, she really just wanted to win. And then, of course, last year the last shot happened, and that was awful. So to come back and win this at home with all our fans and family, it was awesome.”

McBryde certainly played like she really wanted to win. The redshirt senior, who transferred from Purdue three years ago, had 13 points. Eleven of those came in a big third quarter when she buried three 3s. She also grabbed 10 rebounds for her first double-double of the season.

McBryde missed a month’s worth of games in December, but the team has been money when she plays, going 17-2 overall and 10-0 at home prior to Friday night. She showed why as Arizona ended an eight-game losing streak to Stanford.

“A huge testament to our program and Coach Barnes,” McDonald said.

Helena Pueyo and Amari Carter gave the Wildcats a balanced attack with five players scoring in double digits, allowing Barnes to play McDonald just 27 of the 45 minutes. Pueyo put up 11 points and Carter scored 10.

“When we were able to sit (McDonald), other people stepped up,” Barnes said. “And that’s not what we could do in the past. In the past, we didn’t have the defense. We didn’t have the defensive lineups to be effective...or if we had the defensive lineups, we couldn’t score. But we’re able to now. We’re getting better and we’re peaking at the right time, where we can sit her and then we can still flow offensively because of Helena, because of Sam, because of Dominique.”

Neither team came out looking terribly sharp on offense from tip-off. It was almost three minutes into the game before McDonald took a Thomas steal and put points on the board.

The entry of Pueyo lit some fire under the Wildcats. The freshman picked off a pass from Anna Wilson and swished a 3 on the other end to give Arizona the one-point lead. Two minutes later, another shot from distance. The lead was six.

The home team looked comfortable as they closed out the opening quarter with an eight-point lead, but scoring became more difficult as the game wore on. After pushing their lead to nine early in the second quarter, the Wildcats saw their advantage slowly dwindle.

The Wildcats (23-5, 12-5) went cold late in the second quarter. Stanford held them without a point for over six minutes to end the first half and begin the second.

The Cardinal opened the second half on an 8-0 run, building their own six-point lead before McBryde got hot. Her team scored 14 points in the third quarter. Eleven of them were hers.

The senior, who is playing in her final two regular season home games this weekend, hit a 3. She followed with a layup. Another 3-pointer. Then, a third 3-pointer. In three minutes, she had scored 11 points.

Pueyo was the only other Wildcat to score in the quarter, adding a 3 of her own. Arizona had climbed to within five with 10 minutes to play.

Then, it was time for Thomas. The junior opened the final quarter with 10 straight points. The game was tied. The 7,838 fans in McKale Center rose together and roared.

Both teams had opportunities down the stretch. The Cardinal had the opportunity to take a three-point lead when Alyssa Jerome was awarded two free throws with 21 seconds to go in regulation. She missed the first, so the lead was just two. That left the opening for McDonald to tie things up with two free throws of her own with 15 seconds on the clock.

After a steal by Carter, the Wildcats had 13 seconds to pull out the victory. McDonald’s jumper at the five-second mark was off, sending it to overtime.

In overtime, McDonald’s final jumper put the Wildcats up by one, but there were still nine seconds to go. Kiana Williams got a good look for Stanford with four seconds left in overtime.

On Feb. 22, 2019, Alanna Smith lifted the Cardinal to a 56-54 victory over Arizona on a shot with 24 seconds to go in Maples Pavilion. On Feb. 28, 2020 in McKale Center, the shot from Williams was off the mark, turning into McDonald’s fourth rebound of the night and securing the Wildcats’ victory.

“Going down the stretch against (Stanford coach) Tara (VanDerveer) in overtime is always scary because they just find a way to win big games,” Barnes said. “I felt like that floater was in the air for like 10 seconds.”