It's not easy to put together a list of the greatest women's NCAA Tournament champions. Each brought something special to the table and was worthy of its greatness. And, we're not just talking Tennessee and Connecticut.
Here's our ranking of the 25 greatest NCAA women's basketball champions.
Paced by 23 points and 10 rebounds from star A'ja Wilson, South Carolina beat Mississippi State 67-55 to win the program's first, and to date only, national championship. Under the guidance of Dawn Staley, one of the most respected coaches in all of college basketball, the Gamecocks finished 33-4 and won their final 11 games to cap the historic season. Wilson, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, averaged 17.9 points and 7.8 rebounds that seasons as a junior.
This was legendary Irish coach Muffet McGraw's first of two national championship squads. Ruth Riley, the national player of the year who averaged 18.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and remains one of the best defenders in the history of the college game, was the undisputed star for the 34-2 squad that did have to work to beat Purdue in the national title game. The two power programs from Indiana went toe-to-toe in the final after the Irish dropped Connecticut by 15 in the semifinals. Notre Dame overcame an early double-digit deficit and Riley tied the game late, then hit the go-ahead free throws with 5.8 seconds left.
The first dynasty in NCAA women's basketball history resided in Knoxville, Tenn., under late legend Pat Summitt. The Lady Volunteers won their first national title, in somewhat surprising fashion, in 1987, but it was this 1988-89 squad that proved there was really something special going on at Tennessee. This Vols finished 35-2, made a fourth straight Final Four appearance, and beat fellow powerhouse Auburn 76-60 in the final. Bridgette Gordon, still considered among the greats in women's basketball history, was the team's undisputed star.
This was the first of Tennessee's most recent back-to-back winning title teams. During the regular season, the Vols beat the likes of Stanford, Notre Dame, and Connecticut. Though they lost three games prior to the NCAA Tournament, Pat Summitt's group stepped up when it mattered most. Led by superstar Candace Parker (19.6 points per game, 9.8 assists per game), Tennessee showed its mettle by overcoming double-digit deficits to North Carolina in the national semifinals and Rutgers in the national title game to win its seventh championship.
The first of coach Kim Mulkey's three national title teams at Baylor. In her fifth season as coach, Mulkey, the first in women's college basketball history to win a national title as a player, assistant coach, and head coach, had already turned the Baylor program around by the 2004-05 season. Paced by star Sophia Young, the Bears went 33-3 but overcame a 15-point semifinal deficit to exact some revenge on LSU from a regular-season loss. They then rolled past Michigan State 84-62 in the national championship game.
The first of many times we'll feature the Connecticut women's basketball program. Under the guidance of coach Geno Auriemma, the Huskies have won 11 national titles entering the 2021 NCAA Tournament. This 2014-15 team was the third in UConn's run of four straight championships. Breanna Stewart (17.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Kia Nurse, and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis highlighted a group whose only loss came at Stanford in the fourth game of the season. The Huskies capped the 38-1 campaign with a 63-53 win over Notre Dame.
This was the second of USC's back-to-back national-championship teams -- the first program to ever accomplish that feat. Though the 1982-83 group, which was also led by the great Cheryl Miller, went 31-2, it barely got by Louisiana Tech in the national title game. This Trojans' squad went 29-4 but took care of a then-budding Tennessee program 72-61 in the championship game. Miller's presence as the best women's player on the planet and the fact college basketball's top women's team hailed just outside Hollywood made for a great story and brought national attention to a sport that saw its popularity starting to grow.
UConn officially became a dynasty while winning three consecutive national championships from 2002-'04. This 2002-03 team went 37-1, losing only to Villanova in the final of the Big East Tournament. From there, Diana Taurasi (17.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.4 apg) and Co. get down to business and gutted out their way to another national title. After getting by Texas 71-69 in the national semifinals, the Huskies downed rival Tennessee 73-68 in a much-anticipated title contest.
Before the women's NCAA Tournament resumed in 2020, the Bears sat atop the college basketball world with their third national championship. Baylor finished 37-1, with its only loss coming to Stanford in December. Paced by forwards Lauren Cox and Kalani Brown, the Bears had a relatively easy run until the Final Four, where it took out Oregon 72-67. Then had to overcome an injury to star Lauren Cox in the final against Notre Dame, as Chloe Jackson stepped up to score 26 points in the 82-81 victory.
The only team in the storied history of the Purdue basketball program to win a national title, the 1998-99 squad lost its third game of the season, by one point to Stanford, then never suffered defeat again en route to a 34-1 finish. Carolyn Peck's group, led by the star trio of Stephanie White (20.2 ppg), Katie Douglas (14.1 ppg), and Ukari Figgs (16.3 ppg), won each of its NCAA Tournament games by at least 13 points. The Boilermakers capped their special season with a 62-45 win over Duke for the national championship.
The first of UConn's back-to-back, undefeated national champions. The Huskies were a perfect 39-0 thanks to the play of stars Maya Moore (19.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg), Tina Charles (16.5, 8.9 rpg), and Renee Montgomery. The dominance these Huskies displayed, especially in the NCAA Tournament, was quite impressive. Their closest margin of victory during the Big Dance was 19 points, and they rolled over Louisville 76-54 in the title contest.
Five seasons after winning their first national title, the Huskies returned to the top of the women's basketball mountain. The roster included legends Sue Bird (10.9 ppg, 4.3 apg) and Swin Cash, with their only loss in 37 contests coming against rival Tennessee, 72-71, in February. Don't think UConn forgot about that defeat. So, when the teams rematched in the national championship game, the Huskies rolled to a 71-52 victory.
Tennessee's eighth and most recent national title-winning team. Pat Summitt won her 950th game during a season where her Vols went 36-2. However, they had to truly work to claim the national championship while edging LSU 47-46 in the national semifinals. It was a different story in the title game, where Tennessee rolled to a 64-48 win over Stanford. Candace Parker, in her final collegiate season, averaged 21.3 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Led by the great Sheryl Swoopes, Texas Tech enjoyed one of the best seasons of any athletic program in the history of Texas Tech University. The Red Raiders went 31-3, capping the season with a memorable 84-82 victory over Ohio State in the national championship contest. Swoopes (28.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 4.1 apg, 3.4 steals per game), the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, set a title-game record with 47 points for one of the great all-time individual performances in college basketball history.
The Cardinal won two national titles in three years. This was the first, finishing 32-1 in legendary coach Tara VanDerveer's fifth season in charge of the program. Stanford was led by star Jennifer Azzi, the Tennessee girl who came out west to help turn the program into a national power. As a senior in 1989-90, Azzi averaged 14.7 points and 6.0 assists and helped the Cardinal beat Auburn 88-81 in the national championship game in Knoxville, Tenn., some 20 miles from her hometown.
One of the early programs that helped generate interest and popularity for the women's game. The Monarchs won two national titles when the best of women's basketball played in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), in 1979 and '80, with stars like Nancy Lieberman and Anne Donovan. In 1984-85, it was the team led by Medina Dixon (16.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 3.5 apg) that finished 31-3 to win the fourth NCAA women's basketball national championship. In the first women's tournament that was televised by ESPN, the Lady Monarchs beat Georgia 70-65 for the title.
Women's college basketball will never stop celebrating the 1981-82 Lady Techsters. The first team to win the national championship under the NCAA. The group actually had two head coaches, longtime boss Sonja Hogg and Hall of Famer Leon Barmore. During the program's NCAA championship season, 35-1 Louisiana Tech featured one of the game's greats in Janice Lawrence (14.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and a feisty point guard by the name of Kim Mulkey.
A 39-0 squad, this was Connecticut's second of back-to-back undefeated teams. Maya Moore (18.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Tina Charles (18.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg) were the two best players in the country, with Moore earning Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors thanks to a 23-point, 11-rebound effort in the Huskies; 53-47 national-title game win -- and 78th in a row overall -- over Stanford.
There was a new kid in town when it came to programs with national potential. Led by big-time talents in Rebecca Lobo (17.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg), Jennifer Rizzotti (12.5 ppg, 4.6 apg), Kara Wolters (15.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg), and Nysesha Sales (11.4 ppg), UConn went 35-0 to record the program's first national championship. What made it more of a statement was that the Huskies capped the special campaign with a 70-64 title-game victory over Pat Summitt and Tennessee. The torch of dominance in the women's came was not officially passed, but the Volunteers and the rest of women's college basketball were put on notice.
The second team in college basketball history to go 40-0 for a season. Breanna Stewart (19.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.1 apg), Stefanie Dolson, and Bria Hartley starred for a squad that did not trail in a game until the Sweet 16 and never faced a deficit of more than seven points all season. UConn beat fellow perennial powers, Stanford, in the national semifinals, and Notre Dame, in the title game, by a combined 40 points. Now, that's dominance.
Under legendary coach Jody Conradt, the 1985-86 Longhorns became the first women's team during the NCAA Tournament era to go undefeated at 34-0. Fran Harris and Clarissa Davis helped Texas complete that historic season while shining during the NCAA Tournament. After edging Mississippi in the regional finals, the Longhorns showed their dominance with a 90-65 win over Western Kentucky in the national semifinals and 97-81 triumph against mighty USC to claim the championship.
Not only did these 38-0 Huskies cap the program's national championship 3-peat, but heading into the 2021 tournament, this is the last UConn team to win it all. Led by national player of the year Breanna Stewart, who finished her collegiate career with 2,676 points, 1,179 rebounds, 426 assists, and 414 blocks, Moriah Jefferson, Kia Nurse, Morgan Tuck, and freshman Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn rolled to a 38-0 record. The Huskies average margin of victory was nearly 40 points and they routed Syracuse 82-51 for the program's 11th national championship.
This is one of the most special teams in all of college basketball -- men or women. Paced by superstars Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims, these Bears became the first team in college hoops history to finish a season 40-0. Griner, the most dominant college player at the time, averaged 23.8 points, 9.5 boards, and 5.2 blocks. Baylor won every game in the NCAA Tournament by at least 12 points and capped the historic season with an 80-61 victory over Notre Dame.
There are some pundits of the women's game, likely within the proximity of Knoxville, who feel this is the best team in the history of the sport. With star Chamique Holdsclaw leading the way, Tennessee rolled to a 39-0 record, with just three teams getting within 10 points in any contest. Tamika Catchings (18.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and Semeka Randall joined Holdsclaw as All-Americans that season, which the Vols capped with a stellar 93-75 win over Louisiana Tech to claim their third straight national title.
With a starting lineup of Sue Bird (14.4 ppg), Diana Taurasi (14.5 ppg), Swin Cash (14.9 ppg), Asjha Jones, and Tamika Williams, it was hardly a surprise these Huskies went 39-0. UConn twice beat fellow national powerhouse Tennessee -- each time by double digits during the season -- and most noteworthy with a 79-56 rout in the national semifinals. UConn concluded one of the great seasons in college basketball history with an 82-70 victory over Oklahoma for the national championship.
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.