December 01, 2009
Yahoo! Sports' decade in review takes to the hardwood for a series of women's basketball top-fives. First up is the top five stories of the 2000s, a decade of Connecticut dominance in the college ranks and U.S. dominance internationally.
5. Parker wins high school dunk contest
Though still a rare feat, dunking became more frequent as post players became more athletic. Lisa Leslie dunked in a WNBA game. Various players from Michelle Snow to Sancho Lyttle to Sylvia Fowles to current Baylor freshman Brittney Griner threw it down in college games.
But nothing grabbed mainstream attention like the moment when University of Tennessee-bound high school star Candace Parker won the dunk contest at the McDonald's high school All-American game on March 29, 2004, beating five boys in the process. Parker's triumph came a year after LeBron James jumped from the high school ranks to the NBA and further cemented her reputation as the best girls' high school player ever (as if consecutive consensus player of the year awards weren't enough).
More than that, it showcased the progression of athleticism in the women's game. While Parker continues to make headlines for her dunking – first player to dunk in the NCAA tournament, first player to dunk twice in the WNBA – she has stayed in the limelight because of her unparalleled skill and versatility, being a woman who can swat shots and grab boards at one end and put the ball on the floor and throw it down (or step back and shoot a three) at the other.
4. Comets win fourth straight WNBA title to open league's first full decade
The Houston Comets wouldn't make it through the entire decade, but they survived long enough to establish themselves as the first women's pro basketball dynasty.
The Comets finished a game behind the Sparks in the Western Conference in 2000, but the three-time champions didn't lose a playoff game behind the stellar trio of Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson. As she had in the league's first three seasons, Cooper was named Finals MVP.
Los Angeles finally ended the Houston's title reign in 2001, and the Comets never again returned to prominence before disbanding in 2008. Their demise symbolized the WNBA's current troubles – former champions Detroit and Sacramento also have relocated or folded (with hopes of relocation) since the Comets called it quits – but the league still ended the decade with 12 teams, just like it started. And that's 12 more than naysayers expected.
3. Imus-gate grips America
Sadly, the story that got on "Oprah" this decade wasn't Parker and wasn't the Comets, nor was it the historic feats that top the countdown. Instead, it was the controversy generated from Don Imus' comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team following the 2007 NCAA championship game.
Imus' "nappy headed hos" remark got him fired, though he returned to the air before the end of 2007. It had "stolen a moment of pure grace from the team," as Scarlet Knights star Essence Carson said. It robbed Tennessee of the attention the Lady Vols deserved for winning their first national title in nine seasons.
But it also was a women's basketball news story that transcended the sports pages – maybe the first one to dominate headlines and get politicians involved. It proved (again) that you don't have to be a women's hoops junkie to watch the NCAA tournament, you just have to have ESPN (at least we're pretty sure that's why Imus tuned in). And while it forever may have stained Rutgers' joy, it also gained the Scarlet Knights a legion of admirers they didn't have before.
2. Connecticut can't lose
It seems every seven years, Connecticut rattles off a perfect season. While 2015-16 is a ways off and we don't know how long the current Husky win streak will last (45 and counting as December starts), it won't be easy to top the 70 straight victories that included a 39-0 record in 2001-02.
UConn won its second title in three years, and the first of three straight national championships, in 2001-02. The Huskies never won by fewer than nine points. Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Ashja Jones and Tamika Williams all went in the top six of the WNBA draft ... and holdover Diana Taurasi and the 2002-03 Huskies went 29-0 in the regular season.
Villanova tripped up UConn 52-48 to, for the first time in a decade, keep Connecticut from winning the Big East tourney. It also stopped the Huskies 18 wins short of the UCLA men's record. But UConn fought off tough challenges from Texas and Tennessee to win its third of five national championships in the decade. Only a blown 16-point lead in the 2001 Final Four to Notre Dame (well, and potentially Purdue) kept the Huskies from winning five in a row.
1a. Summitt dons cheerleader outfit
OK, so this isn't the top story of the decade, but it might be the most unlikely one. And it's certainly the photo of the decade.
1. Summitt stands alone
But seriously, Pat Summitt started the 2000s chasing still active Texas coach Jody Conradt for the most career victories in women's basketball. She'll end the decade with more wins than any Division I basketball coach in either gender, with more than 1,000 career victories.
She didn't get it on her first try, and she reached the milestone just weeks before the Lady Vols lost to Ball State in the first round of the NCAA tourney to cap their worst season since 1975-76. But the 73-43 victory over Georgia came on Feb. 5, 2009, against the coach who has beaten her more than anyone else, Andy Landers. And Tennessee has her under contract through 2014, when she'll turn 62.
Summitt enters the final month of the decade with 1,010 wins, 108 more than Bob Knight and 110 more than Conradt. Only six NBA coaches have more career wins – and they have 82-game seasons.
Honorable mentions: Teresa Edwards plays in fifth Olympics (2000); Baylor takes improbable title (2005); ACC places three teams in Final Four (2006); Army coach Maggie Dixon dies at 28 (2006); Pokey Chatman resigns at LSU but Tigers continue Final Four streak (2007); Lisa Leslie retires (2009).
All images AP.