’08 women’s hoops stories: A slam dunk

Someone could argue that Tennessee dropping out of the top 10 was the women’s basketball story of 2008.

Before Dec. 15, the Lady Vols had been No. 10 or better in every Associated Press poll since March 1997 – 211 polls and four national titles ago. But after just their second loss of the season, the two-time defending champs fell four places in the rankings to No. 11.

Maybe that gives hope to other teams that they can dominate 2009 like the Lady Vols owned most of 2008.

Or maybe not. Pat Summitt needs seven more wins to reach 1,000 for her career. Tennessee is back up to eighth in the poll. And the last time the Lady Vols fell out of the top 10 – 12 long seasons ago – they rebounded to repeat as national champions.

But before we look ahead to the coming year, let’s look back at 2008’s top stories in women’s basketball, college, pro and otherwise.

Top 10 stories of 2008

10. Connecticut returns to the Final Four: OK, a three-year absence may not seem like much. But after four national titles from 2000 to 2004? The Huskies were looking for some more recent material for their “Team of the Decade” résumé. Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles made sure they got it. Despite losing to Stanford in the national semis, the Huskies opened 2008-09 ranked No. 1 and haven’t lost yet.

9. Shock sweep WNBA Finals: For the first time in their franchise’s 12-year existence, the San Antonio Silver Stars won the West, knocking off the Los Angeles Sparks and their Big Three. But San Antonio was no match for Bill Laimbeer’s Detroit Shock, who cruised to their third title in the first three-game Finals series since it was best-of-three, not best-of-five.

8. Ice beats Ace: It wasn’t a year of surprises, but one came at the Wade Trophy presentation when Stanford great Candice Wiggins was selected over the previous year’s winner – and winner of most every other player of the year accolade for 2007-08 – Candace Parker of Tennessee. Wiggins earned it by carrying the Cardinal to its first Final Four in 11 years with a pair of 40-plus point games in the NCAA tournament.

7. Dream on: Atlanta welcomed the WNBA – with a league-record 17 straight losses. The expansion Dream didn’t win in the first half of the season, but their 91-84 victory over the Chicago Sky actually started a 3-2 stretch. Though they finished with a league-record 30 losses, hope is not lost. Just this month, the Dream picked first in the WNBA’s dispersal draft (selecting Sancho Lyttle), won the draft lottery and acquired the rights to former Mystics and Sparks great Chamique Holdsclaw.

6. Another year, another coach, another Final Four: The more things change at LSU, the more they stay the same. In Van Chancellor’s first year on the job, the Lady Tigers returned to the Final Four for a record-tying fifth straight year. Chancellor marked the third coach in as many postseasons to lead the way. LSU came within a second of ending another streak – five consecutive losses in the national semis.

5. Shooting from outside: Eight years after the NCAA played an outdoor regular-season game – and who knows how many years before the NBA does – the WNBA gave it a try when the New York Liberty played host to the Indiana Fever under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the centerpiece of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Before 19,393 fans on an 87-degree night, the Fever dominated, 71-55.

4. Crazy eights for the Lady Vols: A dislocated shoulder for Candace Parker? The lowest-scoring national semi ever? A championship matchup against high-scoring Stanford? Not problems for Tennessee, as Parker played through the pain, Alexis Hornbuckle scored her only basket of the game on a putback in the final second to beat LSU 47-46, and the Lady Vols thoroughly frustrated the Cardinal in a 64-48 victory for their eighth national championship. And this time, Don Imus didn’t upstage them the following day.

3. Comets head off into the sunset: The Houston Comets once were synonymous with WNBA greatness. Now they’re synonymous with the league’s economic troubles. Like the unremarkable Miami Sol, Portland Fire, Cleveland Rockers and Charlotte Sting, the Comets folded. But unlike those four teams, Houston won the league’s first four titles – more than any active franchise.

2. Red, White and Blue reigns: Tennessee wasn’t the only dynasty to thrive in 2008. USA Basketball came to the Beijing Olympics looking for a fourth consecutive gold medal, and the Americans didn’t disappoint. Team USA routed Australia 92-65 in the final after avenging a 2006 World Championships loss to Russia in the semis. And Becky Hammon, branded a traitor after signing up to play for Russia, took home a bronze.

1. The year of Candace Parker: So she didn’t win the Wade Trophy in 2008. In an 18-hour span, Parker won a second championship with Tennessee and became the first underclassman to go No. 1 in the WNBA draft. She had 34 points, 12 boards and eight assists in her pro debut, nine more points than the previous record for a first game. She won an Olympic gold medal. She became the first WNBA player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. And she got a wedding ring last month, marrying Shelden Williams of the Sacramento Kings. That WNBA championship ring can’t be far behind.

Jeremy Stone is an editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jeremy a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Dec 30, 2008