What better way to prepare for the 2021 women's NCAA Tournament than by celebrating the past — and those greats of the game who got us to this point. While no one player usually is able to lead a team to a national championship, there have been plenty of stellar individual performances, whether in a single game, tournament, or career.
The names of those who have accomplished these feats should be familiar, and some, perhaps not. One would think prominent names — like USC star Lisa Leslie — dominated while in the Big Dance, but that's not always the case.
Here's a look at some of the best players in the history of the women's NCAA Tournament. Listed in alphabetical order.
A two-time Naismith and Wooden Award winner, Augustus also enjoyed plenty of NCAA Tournament success with the Tigers in the 2000s. Her 374 points in 19 career NCAA Tourney games are tied for ninth in history. Perhaps more impressive, LSU reached the Final Four three straight seasons (2004-06) with Augustus on board.
One of the greatest guards in college basketball and WNBA history, Azzi owns the highest career three-point percentage (55.8, 29 of 52 over 10 games) in the tournament's history during her run with the Cardinal in the late 1980s. She also helped Stanford win the national championship as a senior in 1990. That same season, Azzi was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
Diggins never won a national championship during her time at Notre Dame, but she reached the Final Four three consecutive years, from 2011-13, and the national title game twice. The current WNBA star ranks among the all-time NCAA Tournament leaders in points (348), made field goals (128), assists (123), and steals (59) over 20 career games.
During Fowles' four years (2005-08) at LSU, a portion of which she played with Seimone Augustus, the Tigers made the Final Four each season. Though they never won a national championship during that stretch, and still have not, Fowles posted 221 rebounds in 21 games — second all-time in NCAA Tournament history. She also ranks among the tournament's all-time leaders with an impressive 52 blocked shots.
The Hall of Famer was an integral part of Tennessee's first two national championship teams under legendary coach Pat Summitt. She ranks eighth in NCAA Tournament history with 388 points over 18 games from 1986-89. She's also among the tournament's leaders in field goals made (155). During the Lady Vols' run to the 1989 title, Gordon was named the event's Most Outstanding Player.
There might not be a more dominant post player in the history of college basketball, and certainly within the confines of the NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-9, three-time All-American was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2012 NCAA Tournament when the Bears won their second national championship. Griner posted a tournament-record 105 career blocks and is tied for the most made free throws, with 117 through 18 games. She's also near the top in career points (403). Her 14 blocks in a 2010 second-round game vs. Georgetown remains a tourney record.
No player has scored more career points (479) in the NCAA Tournament than the woman affectionately known as "Mique." She's also made the most field goals (195) in tournament history and ranks among the leaders with 198 career rebounds in 22 games. Holdsclaw helped the Lady Vols win three consecutive national titles, from 1996-98, and was the tournament's MOP in '97 and '98.
A former teammate of both Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles with the Tigers, Johnson is the NCAA Tournament's all-time assist leader with 136 — set over 16 games from 2002-05. A record 50 of those helpers came during the 2004 edition, while Johnson dished out another 44 at the 2005 tournament.
One of the most decorated players in all of women's basketball, Lobo helped guide Connecticut to its first of an-NCAA record 11 national titles with a 35-0 record in 1995. Lobo was the Most Outstanding Player of that tournament, averaging 16.0 points and 6.5 rebounds. Though UConn has produced many great players, several of whom are on this list, Lobo was one of the first to help kick-start the program's dominance in the sport.
A member of both the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, McClain led Georgia to a national runner-up finish in 1985. She still holds the NCAA Tournament mark for highest career field-goal percentage (71.4, 60-of-84 over 12 games). It's one that might be pretty tough to break.
Miller is a living legend, and a big reason is due to her success in the NCAA Tournament. The face of women's basketball in the 1980s, Miller won the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award in 1983 and '84 while leading Southern California to back-to-back national championships. Her 333 points over 16 tournament contests, 10.6 career rebound average, and 91 made free throws also rank among the highest ever.
Teamed with sister, Coco, Miller was a big reason Georgia reached the Final Four in 1999 —the last time it advanced that far — when she averaged 21.2 points and 7.8 rebounds. She's one of the game's best ball-handlers as well as the NCAA Tournament's all-time leader with a 95.7 percent career free-throw percentage. Miller did that over 12 games, going 44-of-46.
One of the college game's more recent stars, Mitchell recorded more than 3,400 points for her brilliant career with the Buckeyes. She also left her mark over the 10 games she played in the NCAA Tournament, posting a tournament-record 23.3 career points average. Mitchell's 45 points against West Virginia in the second round of the 2016 tournament rank fourth in NCAA history.
It's possible Moore needs a storage unit to house all the hardware she's accumulated during an exceptional basketball career. A star high school player, Moore went on to UConn where she helped the Huskies reach the Final Four in each of her four seasons. They won titles with undefeated seasons in 2009 and '10, the latter earning Moore MOP honors. She ranks second all-time with 476 career NCAA Tournament points in 22 games, 176 made field goals, and 59 three-point makes.
Mosqueda-Lewis may not get the praise like other bigger names at UConn do, and it's likely because she played alongside perhaps the best college basketball player in the history of the game. (You'll meet her further down this list.) However, she helped the Huskies win three straight national titles, from 2013-15. Her 374 NCAA Tournament points rank among the top 10 all-time, as do her 137 made field goals, 52 three-point makes, and 23 games played.
Talk about stepping up when the games matter most. Ogunbowale's two improbable last-second shots in 2018's Final Four are enough to place her on this list alone. Adding to her legacy, Ogunbowale's 414 career points in 19 NCAA Tournament contests rank sixth all-time, while her 21.8 scoring average in the Big Dance is tied for ninth. She also sits among the all-time tournament leaders with 142 career-made field goals and 98 free-throw makes.
Stanford reached the Final Four each year Ogwumike (2009-12) was in school. Though the Cardinal were unable to capture a national title during that run, it wasn't because of Ogwumike. Over 21 career NCAA Tournament contests, Ogwumike rank fourth overall in points (444), third in made field goals (163), and sits tied for first with 117 successful free throws.
The queen of the double-double, Paris holds the NCAA Tournament record for career rebound average at 13.5. She did that over 13 games from 2006-09. She also blocked 43 shots during her time in the Big Dance. In 2009, Paris helped lead Oklahoma to the first of back-to-back trips to the Final Four.
Another superstar who earned success on multiple levels, Parker is certainly one of the best the college game has ever seen. She was a two-time national champion with the Volunteers in 2007 and '08, earning Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament in both years. Parker ranks among the tournament's all-time leaders with 322 points and 40 blocks over 16 career games.
Many will argue that Penicheiro is the best point guard in the history of the women's game. That was certainly true during her time at Old Dominion from 1995-98. Penicheiro helped ODU reach the national championship game in 1997, which it lost to Tennessee. The Portuguese star holds the official NCAA Tournament record with 61 career steals and ranks among the all-time leaders in assists (92).
Riley is one of the greatest players in Notre Dame history and a major reason the Irish won their first national championship in 2001. Riley was named the Most Outstanding Player of that tournament, during which she averaged 23.2 points and made 43 free throws. Over 14 career NCAA Tournament games, Riley shot 66.9 percent — which rates second all time.
It's quite possible that Stewart is the greatest player in the history of the women's NCAA Tournament. UConn won the national title all four years (2013-16) Stewart was there, and she set a record by winning the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award a record four times. In 23 career tournament games, Stewart ranks third all-time with 446 points, fourth in field goals made (162), and is tied for third with 207 rebounds.
Another legend of the game, Swoopes is a four-time WNBA champion and three-time Olympic gold medalist. The glory started for Swoopes at Texas Tech, though, where she led the Red Raiders to their only national title in 1993. Swoopes earned Most Outstanding Player honors for the tournament, highlighted by her 47 points against Ohio State in the national final. It's the second-highest scoring game in NCAA Tournament history. Her 177 points in the 1993 edition are the most for one single tournament.
Like Swoopes, Taurasi's basketball resume is the stuff legends are made of — and she's not done yet. She's won three WNBA titles and gold four times as an Olympian. It was at UConn where Taurasi's star was truly born, however. She helped the Huskies win three straight national championships, from 2002-04, and was the tournament's MOP in '03 and '04. Over 23 NCAA Tournament career games, Taurasi totaled 428 points, made a record 61 three-pointers, and dished out 106 assists.
The former Stanford star is still the only player in the history of the NCAA Tournament to post multiple games of 40 or more points. Wiggins' 44-point effort against UTEP in the second round of the 2008 tournament is the fifth-highest scoring game in the event's history. In the regional final of the same tournament, Wiggins dropped 41 on Maryland to secure the Cardinal a spot in the Final Four. Her 22.9 scoring average over 16 career games ranks second all time.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.