The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament dominates headlines once the calendar flips to March, and it casts a pretty large shadow over the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. True basketball fans are missing out on a great chance to watch some terrific players and teams by skipping out on watching the women’s game.
The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament has grown over the past few decades, and that tournament is starting to equal the excitement of the men’s tournament.
Women’s college basketball has not been around as long as the men’s game has been, and the same can be said for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The tournament has expanded to equal the number of teams on the men’s side, and the tournament is played at the same time.
This article will give a brief history of women’s NCAA Basketball as well as explore the birth of the Women’s National Basketball Association. We will also point out some of the top players in women’s NCAA Basketball history, and show the dominant teams in each of the major conferences across the country.
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History of Women’s NCAA Basketball
Even though the sport of women’s basketball can trace its roots all the way back to the early 1900s, the sport really took off in the 1970s. The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women helped pave the way for the women’s basketball game, and it was a great platform for women to showcase their basketball talents.
The AIAW Women’s Basketball Tournament began in 1972 and was supposed to rival that of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The NCAA added women’s basketball and 11 other women’s sports to its championship schedule in 1981-82, but the AIAW struggled to give up control.
After one year of dual women’s college basketball championships, the AIAW gave way to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament has seen tremendous growth since its inaugural event in 1982, both in popularity and in the number of teams. There were just 32 teams in the NCAA Women’s Tournament until 1985 when that number was increased to 40.
There were a few other expansions that took place throughout the years, before finally expanding all the way to the current 64-team field in 1994. The seeds used to be given out on a regional basis to help with travel expenses, but now the seeds are given out in the same way that they are handed out in the NCAA Men’s Tournament.
The NCAA Women’s Tournament was a great way to show off the game to a national audience, but it still took some time for people to start taking notice. The NCAA Women’s Tournament used to be played at much smaller venues than the NCAA Men’s Championship, but that is no longer the case.
The dates of the Final Four and championship games have been adjusted as well, in an effort to draw in a bigger audience, and the plan worked. The NCAA Women’s Final Four is now played in front of huge crowds in large venues and is always a highly-rated national broadcast.
Another thing that has grown the NCAA women’s basketball game has been the emergence and growth of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). The WNBA was founded in 1996 as a way to give women the chance to play professionally in the United States, but the league has grown to have a huge following throughout the country.
The league has expanded to 12 teams that are spread out across the country, but there has been talk of expanding the league even further in recent years. The NBA has partnered with the league to try and grow the game of women’s basketball, and several major NBA stars have done a great job of promoting the game.
NCAA Women’s Basketball Top Teams
It can be hard to pinpoint the top NCAA women’s basketball teams, but there are definitely a few that stand above the rest. Certain teams go through periods of brief success, while other teams maintain dominance in the women’s college basketball game.
Let’s look at some of the top conferences in women’s college basketball, and look at the top teams from each conference.
American Athletic Conference (AAC):
The American Athletic Conference is only on this list because of the University of Connecticut Huskies. Connecticut has been in the AAC since 2014, and it has been flawless since that time.
The Huskies went a perfect 118-0 during regular-season play, while also posting a perfect record in AAC Tournament play as well. UConn will move to the Big East Conference in 2020-21, which should make the Cincinnati Bearcats the perennial favorite.
The AAC has three NCAA championships to its credit, all won by the Huskies.
- Connecticut Huskies
- Cincinnati Bearcats
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC):
When the Maryland Terrapins left the ACC after the 2013-14 season, the power of balance shifted in the conference. Since that time, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Louisville Cardinals have carried the banner for the league.
Notre Dame has won five conference championships since 2014, and Louisville has reached three Final Fours over the past 12 seasons. North Carolina (9) and Duke (8) trail Maryland’s 10 conference tournament championships as the most all-time. The Atlantic Coast Conference can lay claim to three NCAA Titles (North Carolina, Maryland, Notre Dame).
- Maryland Terrapins (Left after 2014 season)
- Duke Blue Devils
- North Carolina Tar Heels
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Louisville Cardinals
Big Ten Conference:
The Big Ten Conference is one of the most dominant conferences in men’s college basketball, but the same cannot be said on the women’s side. The league gained a terrific team when the Maryland Terrapins joined the league in 2015, but the Purdue Boilermakers have been the most consistent program with nine Big Ten Championships.
The Ohio State Buckeyes have won five Big Ten titles, and Iowa has won three of them. The Big Ten has won just one NCAA women’s basketball championship, coming when the Boilermakers cut down the nets in 1999.
- Purdue Boilermakers
- Ohio State Buckeyes
- Maryland Terrapins (Since 2015)
- Iowa Hawkeyes
Big East Conference:
The Big East Conference has been hit the hardest by conference realignment over the past decade, and it has really hurt its women’s basketball tradition. The Big East Conference is tied with the SEC with nine total women’s college basketball championships, but all nine of those were won by teams that left the conference in 2013.
Connecticut won the NCAA title eight times as a member of the Big East, and Notre Dame also won a championship for the league. Since these two schools moved on to other conferences, the DePaul Blue Demons have been the most dominant team in the Big East.
The St. John’s Red Storm were the most dominant team in the 1980s and 1990s, but they have struggled in the last 20 years.
- Connecticut Huskies (Left in 2013, Rejoining in 2020-21)
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Left in 2013)
- DePaul Blue Demons
- St. John’s Red Storm
Big 12 Conference:
It’s easy to pick out the most dominant women’s college basketball team in the Big 12 Conference, but it’s hard to really pinpoint the other top teams in the league. The Baylor Lady Bears have been on top of the conference a total of 10 times since tournament play began, and they have also racked up three of the Big 12’s five NCAA championships.
The Lady Bears won the NCAA Championship in 2019 and have been a consistent threat this past decade. Texas won a National Championship in 1986, and it has had some periods of success over the last few decades. Texas Tech won the title in 1993 but hasn’t been to a Final Four since that time.
Oklahoma and Iowa State have also threatened to win the league on several different occasions but have struggled to maintain dominance.
- Baylor Lady Bears
- Texas Longhorns
- Texas Tech Lady Raiders
- Oklahoma Sooners
- Iowa State Cyclones
Southeastern Conference (SEC):
The Southeastern Conference has one of the richest traditions in women’s college basketball, although the Tennessee Lady Volunteers have really carried the conference on the national stage. The SEC can lay claim to nine NCAA Women’s Championships, but Tennessee has won eight of them.
The South Carolina Gamecocks won the other championship for the league in 2017 when they knocked off conference foe Mississippi State in the title game. South Carolina and Mississippi State have been battling for league supremacy over the last decade, while the Volunteers dominated the first decade this century.
Vanderbilt has been one of the most consistent teams in league history, having won six league championships.
- Tennessee Lady Volunteers
- South Carolina Gamecocks
- Mississippi State Bulldogs
- Vanderbilt Commodores
The Pac-12 Women’s College Basketball Conference might have 12 teams, but it’s usually a three-team race when it comes to the conference championship. The Oregon Ducks have been relevant in the last few years, but they don’t have a long tradition of success.
Stanford has been the standard of excellence in the Pac-12 Conference, having made it to 16 conference title games. UCLA has made five appearances in the title game, and USC was the dominant team in the first few decades of the league.
The Pac-12 Conference has won four NCAA titles, with USC and Stanford each winning two championships.
- Stanford Cardinal
- UCLA Bruins
- USC Trojans
- Oregon Ducks
Best Women’s College Basketball Players
Even if you are not someone that watches women’s college basketball a lot, there is a good chance that you have probably heard about some of the players we are about to talk about. Women’s college basketball has been fortunate to have had some terrific players throughout its history.
Teams win championships, but it is the players that deliver the performances that we will never forget.
A few of these women played before the WNBA really got going, and therefore they missed out on a chance to play professionally in the United States. Other players have gone on to have terrific careers in the WNBA, and one of the players has yet to leave college basketball.
All of the players on the list should be appreciated and celebrated for their greatness on the hardwood, regardless of their gender. Let’s take a look at eight of the best women’s college basketball players of all-time, and discuss their playing careers.
Taurasi is the first of three UConn players on this list, and she was really the player that turned the Huskies into a perennial contender. Taurasi led the Huskies to three straight NCAA Championships from 2002-04 and was named Most Outstanding Player in ’03 and ’04.
She holds the NCAA record for most three-pointers made in NCAA Tournament play with 61 and scored 428 points in the NCAA Tournament. Taurasi then went on to win three WNBA titles and is a four-time Olympic gold medalist. Her career is still going, giving her a chance to add on to these accolades.
Swoopes led the Texas Tech Red Raiders to their only NCAA Championship in 1993, when she scored 47 points in the title game. She then went on to win four championships in the WNBA and was also a huge part of three Olympic Gold Medal teams with Team USA.
Her 177 points in the 1993 NCAA Tournament is still the record for the most points in a single tournament.
There have been some outstanding players that have worn the UConn Huskies uniform, but none of them have had as much success as Stewart had. Stewart led the Huskies to four straight NCAA Championships from 2013-16 and was named Most Outstanding Player all four of those years.
She remains the only player in history (men’s or women’s) to accomplish that feat. Stewart went on to win the 2018 WNBA Championship with the Seattle Storm and was named the Most Valuable Player and Finals MVP during that season.
The University of Tennessee has also had some great players in its history, but Candace Parker was, without a doubt, the best. Parker was a dominant force in women’s college basketball and went on to a terrific career in the WNBA and with Team USA.
Parker led the Vols to back-to-back NCAA Championships in 2007 and 2008 and was named Most Outstanding Player in both of those runs. Parker went on to win the WNBA Rookie of the Year Award and MVP in 2008 and led the Los Angeles Sparks to a title in 2016.
She was also the first woman to ever dunk in a women’s NCAA Tournament game during her redshirt freshman year in 2006.
Maya Moore might not be the most talented player on this list, but she is definitely the best winner. Moore led the UConn Huskies to back-to-back undefeated National Championship seasons in 2009 and 2010 and was named Most Outstanding Player in 2010.
UConn reached the Final Four during all four of her seasons on campus. Moore then went on to the WNBA and became a four-time champion and was named the MVP of the league in 2014. She is also a two-time gold medalist with Team USA.
Cheryl Miller was a legend before even stepping foot on campus at USC. Miller is also the sister of NBA legend, Reggie Miller, but she was able to carve out her own path and is the best women’s player from the 1980s.
Miller led the USC Trojans to back-to-back championships in 1983 and 1984, scoring 333 points over 16 NCAA Tournament Games. Miller came around well before the WNBA began, robbing fans the chance to watch this women’s basketball legend play the game professionally.
While she is no relation to Cheryl, Kelly Miller could definitely fit in with the sharpshooting Miller family. Miller is the all-time leader in the NCAA Tournament in free-throw percentage, shooting 95.7 percent during her 12-game career.
Miller helped lead the Georgia Bulldogs to the Final Four in 1999, playing alongside her sister, Coco. Even though the WNBA didn’t come around until a few years after her college graduation, Miller still enjoyed a decade-long career in the league.
Ionescu is the youngest woman on this list, and she is still finishing up her collegiate career at the University of Oregon. Ionescu is the only NCAA Division I basketball player (men’s or women’s) to score at least 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds, and dish out 1,000 assists in her career.
She won the Wooden Award in 2019 and has already had success as a member of the Women’s US National Team.