McDonald, the Pac-12 player of the year, fought her way through Stanford’s defense to earn 22 points on 5 of 20 shooting from the field and 4 of 9 from 3-point range.
“For me to constantly see the Pac-12 have no respect, have zero respect — and that shows up in Aari being second-team all American, this shows in that Aari not being defensive player of the year — it’s continuously and it’s always happening in the Pac 12,” Arizona Coach Adia Barnes told reporters on Saturday.
The matchup with Arizona marked the first time that two Pac-12 teams faced each other in the finals; out of six in-conference championships for the national title, three were between Southeastern Conference teams, two were within the Big East and one was in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The last time the Cardinal played in the national championship — 2010 in the Alamodome, when it fell to UConn — was the last time that a Pac-12 team did as well. At that point, the league was still the Pac-10, and Stanford was largely the national face it. Since welcoming the University of Utah and University of Colorado, Boulder, in 2011, Pac-12 teams emerged as a staple of the women’s Final Four with appearances by Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford.
“I’m hoping with both of us in the championship game, the Pac-12 will get some respect and the East Coast bias will stop,” Barnes told reporters on Saturday.
Barnes, meanwhile, was fighting to become the third Black female coach to claim the N.C.A.A. title. She is one of five Black women to have coached in a women’s Final Four, following in the footsteps of C. Vivian Stringer, Carolyn Peck, Pokey Chatman and Dawn Staley; the national semifinals this year was the first time that two Black head coaches led teams simultaneously.
“Our history here in women’s basketball is so filled with so many Black bodies that for this to be happening in 2021, to me, is long overdue,” Staley, the South Carolina coach and one of two Black women to win a national championship, said in a postgame interview this week about being one of two Black head coaches in this year’s Final Four.