January 01, 2010
You thought you'd seen the last of Yahoo! Sports' decade in review. So did we. But with the new decade now under way, we thought we'd take one last look back at the top games of the 2000s to wrap up our women's basketball top-fives.
Connecticut and Tennessee combined for seven titles in the decade, but some of the best NCAA tourney games came in the years when they didn't win. And teams came and went through the first full decade of the WNBA's life, but good games – particularly in the Finals – were a constant.
5. The foul heard 'round the world (March 28, 2004)
Baylor thought it had pushed top seed Tennessee to overtime in the 2004 Sweet 16 – until the officials went to the monitor. In a scramble for a rebound under Tennessee' basket, the Lady Bears' Jessika Stratton and Lady Vols' Tasha Butts collided. After what seemed like an eternity, officials called a loose-ball foul and put two-tenths of a second back on the clock. Butts made both free throws, and Tennessee won 71-69.
"I can't blame it on one play, except the one at the end. I think overtime should have probably happened. I'm sorry. I had to say it," Baylor senior Dionne Brown said.
The Lady Bears wouldn't lose another tourney game until 2006.
4. Spartans stun Lady Vols (April 3, 2005)
Tennessee wouldn't be as fortunate the next year. A rematch against Baylor for the national championship seemed imminent with the Lady Vols dominating Michigan State 47-31 at the Final Four. But a steady diet of Kelli Roehrig points in the paint brought the Spartans back, and Kristin Haynie's steal and layup put Michigan State in front. MSU went on to a 68-64 win, matching the largest Final Four comeback ever.
The Spartans wilted against Baylor in the finale, but they helped make sure Pat Summitt would have to wait two more years for her elusive seventh national title.
3. UConn keeps streak alive (Jan. 4, 2003)
It wouldn't be right not to include a game from the decade's biggest rivalry. Though they haven't played each other in nearly three seasons, Connecticut and Tennessee squared off 14 times in the 2000s, with the Lady Vols winning the last three to pull within 9-5 in the series for the decade.
With apologies to Tennessee's one-point win at No. 1 UConn in 2000 – the Huskies' lone loss that season – we picked a game in which neither team was top-ranked. But UConn's 50-game win streak was in jeopardy in 2003 until Diana Taurasi drilled a late three in regulation, and the Huskies held on for a 63-62 overtime win at the Hartford Civic Center that pulled them within three of Louisiana Tech's record 54-game win streak from 1980 to 1982.
UConn went on to win 70 straight games in all, then won the title-game rematch 73-68 for its second straight national championship.
2. Irish enjoy life of Riley (April 1, 2001)
Notre Dame and Purdue played one of the tightest title games ever in 2001. The Irish proved the Big East wasn't a one-team league and denied the Boilermakers a second title in three seasons.
Future pro stars Ruth Riley and Katie Douglas carried both teams, and Riley's two late free throws put Notre Dame ahead 68-66. Douglas missed a shot at the horn that would have tied it.
1. Fear the turtle (April 4, 2006)
You can't top an overtime championship game. Maryland completed the decade's most meteoric rise by winning a game it led for 75 seconds – including overtime.
The Terrapins essentially stole a title from Duke. Freshman Kristi Toliver buried a three-pointer over 6-foot-7 Alison Bales with six seconds left in regulation to tie the score, and Duke led most of overtime, but Toliver and Marissa Coleman made the free throws in the final minute that sealed the Blue Devils' fate. Jessica Foley's desperation three-point attempt at the buzzer harmlessly clanged off the front of the rim.
Maryland's dynasty never materialized, but the Terps always will have Boston – and the Blue Devils always will lament the one their conference rivals took away.
5. Welcome to the show (May 17, 2008)
That Candace Parker became a star in the WNBA surprised nobody. That she had one of the best games in history in her debut? That's saying something.
On a night when the Phoenix Mercury got their rings from the 2007 championship, Parker outplayed Diana Taurasi and everyone else. Her 34 points shattered Cynthia Cooper's record for a debut by nine points, and she added 12 boards and eight assists as her Los Angeles Sparks beat the Mercury 99-94.
4. Expect a Miracle (June 8, 2002)
Two long-forgotten franchises staged arguably the best regular-season game of the decade. The Cleveland Rockers and Orlando Miracle did battle for nearly three hours and three overtimes, and Orlando prevailed 102-99 in what was the longest game ever by time.
Shannon Johnson torched the Rockers for 15 overtime points en route to 35 in all, giving Dee Brown and the Miracle one of their biggest victories. After the season the Miracle packed their bags and became the Connecticut Sun, while Cleveland lasted one more year.
3. Mercury run just hot enough (Sept. 13, 2007)
With the Detroit Shock on the verge of a second straight title, the Mercury turned to Cappie Pondexter to put the champagne back on ice. The Mercury trailed by four in the final two minutes, but Pondexter scored on Phoenix's final two Game 4 possessions as the Mercury held on for a 77-76 win.
Phoenix then pulled the Game 5 upset to capture its first championship.
2. Shock go down to the wire (Sept. 9, 2006)
Detroit usually wins in the postseason at Joe Louis Arena. The Shock proved it's just as true for basketball as for hockey by winning the first Game 5 in Finals history.
Finals MVP Deanna Nolan carried Detroit back from eight points down at halftime against the defending champion Sacramento Monarchs, who cut their own 13-point deficit down to three in the final minute. But Katie Smith's 15-footer sealed a second title for the Shock.
1. Duel in the desert (Sept. 29, 2009)
It may not have been the marquee matchup the league had hoped for, but the 2009 Finals quickly proved worth watching. The Phoenix Mercury edged the Indiana Fever 120-116 in overtime on as both teams scored more than anyone had in a single WNBA game, besting the Mercury's 115-point game on June 13 and a 221-point, triple-OT game in 2006 (that almost made this list).
Overtime featured six lead changes, but Cappie Pondexter scored the game's final five points in Phoenix's Game 1 win. The teams would split the final four games of the series as the Mercury won their second championship in three seasons.
"Well, if you didn't like women's basketball," Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said, "I think you do now."
Top two photos are AP. Bottom photo is NBAE/Getty Images.