Memories are sure to be made when the women's NCAA Tournament tips off once again. That's a certainty. From last-second shots to stunning upsets and stellar individual performances, it's all waiting for college basketball fans.
However, before we prepare for what's to come, it's fun to look back at the past — to those fantastic finishes, milestone performances, and dominant team efforts.
Here's a look at some of the top moments in the history of the women's NCAA Tournament.
Memories are sure to be made when the women's NCAA Tournament tips off later this week. That's a certainty. From last-second shots to stunning upsets and stellar individual performances, it's all waiting for college basketball fans.
However, before we prepare for the future, it's fun to look back at the past — to those fantastic finishes, milestone performances, and dominant team efforts.
Here's a look at some of the top moments in the history of the women's NCAA Tournament.
The inaugural women's tournament under the NCAA label was historic in more than one way. Drake's Lorri Bauman scored an amazing 50 points in her team's loss to Maryland in the regional finals. Perhaps more impressive, Bauman still holds the record for most points scored in an NCAA Tournament game, while her 21 made field goals on 35 attempts are also both marks that still stand today.
Mighty Louisiana Tech ushered in a new era for the game by winning the first women's NCAA national championship. Prior champs were crowned within the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). This tournament featured 32 teams, culminating with the Lady Techsters, who won the final AIAW title, beating Cheyney State (coach by legend C. Vivian Stringer) 76-62 in the national final. That Louisiana Tech team featured talented guard Kim Mulkey, the current coach at Baylor and the only woman to win an NCAA Division I hoops title as a player and coach.
Cheryl Miller is perhaps the greatest women's basketball player of all time and was obviously a big reason USC became the first program to win back-to-back NCAA national titles. For the second consecutive tournament, in 1984, Miller earned Most Outstanding Player honors while leading the Trojans to a national championship at Pauley Pavilion, the home of their archrival, UCLA.
For the first time under the auspices of the NCAA, a program went undefeated for an entire season. That honor belonged to Texas, which, led by 25 points off the bench from future Hall of Famer Clarissa Davis, took down Cheryl Miller, who went scoreless in the second half, and beat USC, 97-81, to cap a 34-0 campaign with the school's first NCAA title.
The odds seemed stacked against the Lady Vols in their '87 national title game vs. Louisiana Tech. The Lady Techsters had won 11 of the previous 12 meetings with Tennessee, including a 23-point victory in the 1982 national semifinals. However, the Vols avenged that defeat and all the others by blowing away Louisiana Tech by the same margin, 67-44, for the first of the school's eight national titles under late legend Pat Summitt.
Only twice in the history of the women's NCAA Tournament has a championship game gone into overtime. The first came in 1991 when Tennessee needed extra time to beat Virginia, 70-67, for its third national championship. The Cavaliers led by five with less than two minutes left in regulation, but Tennessee's Dena Head essentially made up that deficit on her own to force overtime and lead the Volunteers to the title.
In the first national semifinals to include all newcomers to the Final Four stage — Texas Tech, Ohio State, Iowa, and Vanderbilt — it was the Red Raiders claiming their first, and only, title. Star Sheryl Swoopes scored an NCAA national final record 47 points, as Texas Tech held on for an 84-82 victory over Ohio State in one of the more entertaining title games in tournament history.
After years of 32 teams vying for the national championship, the NCAA Tournament field was expanded to 64. Quite a big moment in the history of the tournament. A total of 32 conferences were able to earn automatic bids, plus 32 at-large teams earned invitations to what would prove to be one of the most exciting NCAA Tournaments in the history of the event.
In one of the greatest finishes in the history of the women's tournament, North Carolina's Charlotte Smith took an in-bound pass with 0.7 seconds left on the clock and her team down by two. Wide-open on the right-wing, Smith stepped up and knocked down a three-pointer as time expired, giving the Tar Heels a 60-59 victory over Louisiana Tech for their first national championship.
Connecticut's true dominance of the women's game would begin five years later, but the foundation was officially laid during the '95 tournament. It also unofficially began the rivalry between UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Tennessee's Pat Summitt after the Huskies topped the Volunteers, 70-64, to win their first national championship, finish 35-0 and become the first team since Texas in 1986 to go undefeated for a season.
Prior to 2018, the only time a No. 16 seed upset a No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament came on the women's side. In 1998, 16th-seeded Harvard, with a quality 21-3 record, stunned a Stanford team dealing with injuries. The Crimson showed no sympathy, leading by nine at halftime on the Cardinal's home floor and winning 71-67, to complete one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history.
Harvard wasn't the only underdog to come through during the '98 tournament. Arkansas, seeded ninth, made it all the way to the Final Four — still the lowest seed ever to reach the national semifinals in the women's NCAA Tournament. In fitting fashion, the Razorbacks beat Harvard in the second round. They then took down No. 5 seed Kansas before stunning No. 2 Duke in the regional final. Arkansas' Cinderella run ultimately ended with an 86-58 semifinal loss to eventual champion Tennessee.
Candace Parker was already a star when she led Tennessee into the '06 NCAA Tournament. It was there that she elevated herself to rock star status when she became the first player to dunk in a women's tournament game. With just under 14 minutes left in the Vols' first-round game against Army, Parker finished off a break with a one-handed slam to bring the house down. She also dunked later in the game off a baseline pass.
It seems hard to believe that there have been just two women's NCAA national championship games decided in overtime. In the most recent game to need extra time, Maryland rallied from a 13-point, second-half deficit to force OT following a Kristi Toliver three-pointer. A pair of Toliver free throws helped the Terrapins win, 78-65, improve to 6-0 in overtime on the season, and claim the program's only national title to date.
Ten times in the history of the women's NCAA Tournament has a player scored more than 40 points in a contest. Stanford star Candice Wiggins did it twice in the 2008 tournament — the only player to accomplish such a feat. She scored 44 in a second-round win over UTEP and then went for 41 as the Cardinal beat Maryland to reach the Final Four.
No player has officially blocked more shots in the history of the women's NCAA Tournament than former Baylor star Brittney Griner, who swatted away 105 over 18 games. Her most dominant performance came in a second-round victory over Georgetown when the 6-foot-9 standout blocked a tournament-record 14 shots.
We know ninth-seeded Arkansas is the lowest seed ever to reach a Final Four, but Gonzaga came close to changing that in 2011. Playing two games on their home court and the regional in their home city of Spokane, Wash., the No. 11 Bulldogs became the lowest seed ever to reach a regional final. Gonzaga bested sixth-seeded Iowa, third-seeded UCLA, and No. 7 Louisville before falling 83-60 to top-seeded Stanford — one step before the Final Four.
There was a good chance Pat Summitt's reign as Tennessee coach would end following the 2011-12 season since she was less than a year removed from revealing her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. There was much speculation following Tennessee's loss to eventual champ Baylor, the first team to go 40-0, in the regional final that Summitt, who had already handed much of the coaching duties over to longtime assistant Holly Warlick, would decide to retire from coaching the team full time. She did so officially in April 2012, thus making her last game an unceremonious affair.
In the women's game, it's commonplace for things to go in the form of chalk. The top four seeds tend to be regular Final Four participants, but that was not the case in 2013. Seeded fifth, Louisville became the lowest seed ever to reach the national final in the tournament's history. In the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively, the Cardinals beat top-seeded Baylor and No. 2 Tennessee. They then took down second-seeded California before falling to UConn, 93-60, in the title game.
The Connecticut dynasty was in full force at this time, and the 2014 victory over Notre Dame — in the first finals matchup of undefeated teams — officially solidified its place atop the women's college basketball hierarchy. With a 40-0 record and ninth national championship, the Huskies topped Tennessee for the most titles in women's NCAA Tournament history.
It seems hard to believe that UConn's last title came four years ago. Now, that can all change this season, but the 2016 Connecticut squad, led by Breanna Stewart, claimed its record fourth consecutive national title while finishing the season 38-0. The Huskies are the last champion to finish a season undefeated, and that run will continue in 2020 as no contender who will be in this year's tournament field is without a loss.
There have been plenty of memorable shots in the history of the women's NCAA Tournament, and near the top of the list has to be Morgan William's buzzer-beater for Mississippi State that ended Connecticut's ridiculous 111-game winning streak. This national semifinal thriller was tied when the 5-foot-5 junior drained a 14-footer to shock the Huskies, end the record streak and send the Bulldogs to the national championship game.
Arike Ogunbowale had a Final Four to remember for Notre Dame and one that won't soon be forgotten by anybody who follows the game. It started in the national semifinal against Connecticut. With the game tied at 89 in overtime, Ogunbowale drained a jumper from the right-wing with a UConn defender in her face and one second remaining on the clock. The stunning bucket sent the Irish to the national title game...
... where Ogunbowale was at it again. This time, a national championship was on the line. With Mississippi State as the opponent and the game again tied with three seconds left in regulation, Ogunbowale took a side inbound pass, dribbled to the near right corner, and put up a spread-legged three-pointer that snapped the net at the buzzer to give Notre Dame its first title in 17 years. It was an improbable finish to perhaps the greatest two days of college basketball ever.
For the just eighth time over a 20-year stretch, two female coaches — Baylor's Kim Mulkey and Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw — went head-to-head for a national championship. The Bears overcame the loss of star Lauren Cox to a knee injury and blowing a 17-point lead to win 82-81, thanks to Chloe Jackson's driving, tiebreaking layup with 3.9 seconds left. Irish star Arike Ogunbowale missed the first of two free throws, and Baylor hung on for its first title since 2012.
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.