December 02, 2009
Yahoo! Sports' decade in review takes to the hardwood for a series of women's basketball top-fives. Next up we look at the best teams in the college and pro ranks. We'd add international to the mix, but with Team USA winning the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics, it's a little too simple.
We also tried limiting it to one team per school, but eliminating a 39-0 team isn't fair. So we made one exception. And we added the five best teams that didn't win a championship as well.
5. Baylor, 2004-05
This was a close call between the Lady Bears and next season's Maryland team. The Terps were part of a three-team ACC Final Four but actually were seeded worse than Duke and North Carolina, so we gave the edge to the unstoppable Sophia Young and Baylor. While Kim Mulkey's team was a No. 2 seed, it counted among its three losses a one-point defeat to Final Four team LSU in its season opener and a triple-overtime loss at Nebraska. The Lady Bears played with a chip on their shoulder through the NCAA tournament, and their 84-62 win over top-seeded Michigan State was the most lopsided championship game in 18 years.
4. Notre Dame, 2000-01
You could make a strong case for the largely forgotten Irish to be No. 3 on this list. Led by dominant center Ruth Riley, Notre Dame went 34-2, with only a one-point loss at Rutgers and a two-point loss at Connecticut in the Big East tourney final preventing an unbeaten season. The Irish then rallied from 16 points down against the Huskies in the Final Four to beat the defending champs by 15 before edging Purdue 68-66 in the title game. UConn wouldn't lose another tourney game until 2005.
3. Tennessee, 2007-08
The Lady Vols waited nine years for their seventh national championship in 2007, but it took only another 12 months to tally No. 8. A stifling defense kept each of Tennessee's final three opponents in the forties, including Candice Wiggins-led Stanford in the title game. The next day four Lady Vols - Candace Parker, Alexis Hornbuckle, Nicky Anosike and Shannon Bobbitt - went in the first 16 picks of the WNBA draft.
2. Connecticut, 2008-09
They won all 39 games by double-digit margins. Nobody came closer than 19 points of them in the NCAA tournament and they won their conference tournament championship game 75-36 - over the eventual NCAA runner-up. They had a sophomore win the national player of the year. It's hard to imagine any team being better, but ...
1. Connecticut, 2001-02
The Huskies of seven years previous probably were the most talented women's college team of them all. Coming four years after the 1997-98 Tennessee squad had probably the best season ever to that point, the 2001-02 UConn team duplicated the Lady Vols' 39-0 run. Though they did have one single-digit victory (not exactly a nail-biter, they won by nine), the Huskies' four senior starters - Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Ashja Jones and Tamika Williams - went in the top six of the WNBA draft. The starter who stayed behind? Diana Taurasi.
Best of the rest:
Oklahoma, 2002: The Sooners actually came closer to winning the title before the Courtney Paris era, but they had the misfortune of facing the decade's juggernaut in the final, which they lost 82-70.
Duke, 2003: Granted, the 2006 Blue Devils lost the title game in OT. But Gail Goestenkors' 2003 squad went 35-1 behind the superb Alana Beard before running into Tennessee in the Final Four. Beard and Iciss Tillis went in the first round of the next year's WNBA draft.
LSU, 2005: Take your pick of five straight Lady Tigers Final Four losses. Though they came within a second of snapping the streak in 2008 against Tennessee, we'll pick the 2005 team that had both Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles. But it let a 15-point lead get away against Baylor, and LSU never again got its offense on track in the Final Four.
North Carolina, 2006: Ivory Latta and the Tar Heels were the class of a stacked ACC that sent three teams to the Final Four, but they couldn't get past Maryland in the semis. The 33-2 team produced four first-round picks.
Stanford, 2008: Wade Trophy winner Candice Wiggins led the Cardinal to its first Final Four in 11 seasons and an upset of Connecticut in the Final Four. But Stanford's offense went cold against Tennessee in the final.
The Monarchs reached three conference finals in the first half of the decade before breaking through in 2005. Yolanda Griffith and Sacramento came within a win of capturing back-to-back titles, beating the Sun that year and squandering a 2-1 lead to the Shock in 2006. But they never returned to the conference finals and folded after a rough 2009 season.
Houston actually had less postseason success than Sacramento during the decade, winning only one playoff series in their last eight seasons of existence. But the 2000 Comets went 27-5 and arguably were the best single team of the decade, winning a fourth straight championship behind the iconic Big Three of Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson.
Phoenix followed six straight non-playoff seasons with a surprising run to the title in 2007, running past teams under Paul Westhead's high-speed attack. Cappie Pondexter led the Mercury to a Game 5 road win over the Shock. The Mercury finished tied for last in the West the next season but won another five-game Finals in 2009, this time against the Indiana Fever.
After four years of chasing Houston, the Sparks won consecutive titles of their own in coach Michael Cooper's first two seasons, 2001 and 2002. Los Angeles posted its second straight 28-4 record in 2001 as Lisa Leslie won her first MVP award, and the Sparks lost just won postseason game. L.A. went 25-7 the next year but swept through the postseason. The Sparks lost in the 2003 Finals and haven't been back.
No single Detroit title team could match the '00 Comets nor the '01 or '02 Sparks, but the Shock rang up three titles in a six-year span from 2003 to 2008 and earned the title of team of the decade. Detroit drafted Cheryl Ford with the first pick in '03 and went from worst to first, surprising the Sparks in Game 3 of the Finals. The Shock won the first Game 5 in league history in 2006 against the Monarchs and then had the first three-game sweep in 2008 against the Silver Stars.
The Shock had three different Finals MVPs (Ruth Riley, Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith) and never have had a league MVP. They remain the only East team to win a title since the 1997 Comets, who moved to the West after that season.
It remains to be seen whether they'll become the first relocated team to win a title, but Tulsa hopes so.
Notre Dame photo from AP. Smith/Nolan photo from Getty Images.