Who are the best-ever women's college basketball players? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
There’s no better way to wrap up the month of March than a Final Four matchup between South Carolina and Iowa, and that’s exactly what fans will get Friday night.
Junior guard Caitlin Clark has absolutely electrified college basketball with her effortless scoring and swagger, while Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks are seemingly unstoppable as a unit and looking to defend their national championship. But this game may come down to star power and there’s certainly no shortage taking the court at American Airlines Arena.
Clark’s resume speaks for itself.
As a sophomore, she became the first person in Division I history to lead the NCAA in points (27.0) and assists (8.0). This past year she became the first player to record 900 points and 300 assists in a single season. And most recently, she completed the first tournament 40-point triple-double in Iowa’s Elite Eight win over Louisville. Prior to that matchup, no men's or women's triple-double had ever eclipsed 30 points in March Madness history.
While Clark dominated the narrative throughout March Madness -- earning both AP Player of the Year and Naismith Player of the Year honors -- stars line the tournament top to bottom including LSU’s Angel Reese, South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley, all of whom have a shot at championship glory themselves in the Final Four this weekend.
But first, let’s take a look back at some of the greatest women’s college basketball players to see where the current crop of stars stand.
Kelsey Plum, Washington
Plum owns the NCAA record for most career points (3,527) during her four years with the Huskies. She also led the school to its only Final Four in program history as a junior, averaging 25.9 points and 4.2 assists per game in the process.
It took her a few years to settle into the WNBA, but Plum is coming off the heels of a breakout 2022 campaign with the Las Vegas Aces that saw her named to her first All-Star Game and win a WNBA championship.
Maya Moore, UConn
When Sports Illustrated declares you the greatest winner in the history of women’s basketball, you earn an undisputed place on this list.
Arriving in Storrs, Ct. from Georgia, Moore made an immediate impact for the Huskies. She became the second freshman to be named to the AP All-American First Team and the second sophomore to be named AP Player of the Year. She won two national championships under Geno Auriemma and finished her four years with a 150-4 record.
The most interesting part of Moore’s career, however, probably lies in what followed that Sports Illustrated declaration -- “best may be yet to come.”
Moore won four WNBA championships in eight years, was named the league MVP in 2014 and won essentially every honor the league has to offer. Less than two years removed from her fourth championship, Moore walked away from basketball to advocate for the overturning of a 50-year conviction against Jonathan Irons. Moore and Irons met through prison ministry shortly before starting her freshman year at UConn. Irons was released in 2020 and he and Moore married shortly after, welcoming a child in 2022.
Despite not playing since 2019, Moore officially retired this past January at the age of 33.
Brittney Griner, Baylor
Griner made her name as a defensive wall, blocking everything that came in the paint for Kim Mulkey’s Baylor Bears, and has a national championship to show for it.
She averaged 5.1 blocks throughout her career -- including a staggering 6.4 as a freshman -- and holds the record for single-season (223) and career (748) blocks. She continued that dominance into the WNBA where she led the league in blocks for seven seasons and is currently fourth in the all-time standings.
Cheryl Miller, USC
Way back in the day, USC was a powerhouse charged by 6-foot-2 forward Cheryl Miller.
Raised near Los Angeles, Miller dominated California high school basketball, setting countless records including a memorable 105-point performance her senior year.
Behind Miller’s leadership, the Trojans captured back-to-back national championships (the second and third ever, respectively) and advanced to the program’s only three Final Fours. She won the Naismith Award three times, a feat only repeated by Breanna Stewart, and earned All-American honors each of her four years with USC.
While Miller was putting together an illustrious career at USC, her younger brother, Reggie was doing the same at UCLA. He remains second all-time in points scored for the Bruins behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and went on to become a five-time NBA All-Star.
In 2012, Reggie joined Cheryl in the Naismith Hall of Fame making them the first brother-sister duo enshrined.
Diana Taurasi, UConn
Among a list of greats, Taurasi has a case for the most impactful player in college history.
Throughout the early 90s, UConn began establishing itself as a solid program under Auriemma. Things took off for the Huskies later in the decade with the arrival of Rebecca Lobo, which resulted in them winning the school’s first ever national championship -- men’s or women’s -- in 1995.
Auriemma won another national championship five years later behind a stacked lineup that included Sue Bird and Swin Cash, but it wasn’t until a year later when Taurasi arrived from California and made UConn the undeniable dynasty they are today.
As point guard, she led the Huskies to three straight national championships before going on to become the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Sue Bird, UConn
Speaking of the early days of UConn dominance, Sue Bird is about as iconic as they come.
The point guard has been on the forefront of women’s basketball for more than two decades now and was instrumental in securing the Huskies national championships in her sophomore and senior years. Despite the hardware, one of Bird’s most memorable college moments came her junior year in a trio of matchups against emerging rivals, Notre Dame.
The two sides first met in a regular season matchup in South Bend where Notre Dame picked up its first win in a dozen tries. Bird later got revenge in the Big East tournament championship when she drove the length of the court and hit a fadeaway jumper with time expiring to put the Huskies up 78-76.
Of course, Niele Ivey and the Irish got the last laugh in the Final Four they beat the Huskies en route to the program’s first national championship, but Bird’s shot remains the image of what was dubbed at the time by many as the greatest women’s basketball game.
Bird paid Clark and the Hawkeyes a visit earlier this week so perhaps that could bring them some good mojo.
— espnW (@espnW) March 27, 2023
Candace Parker, Tennessee
Fans of the Tennessee Volunteers had to wait a year for the highly-touted recruit to recover from a knee injury she suffered over the summer before her true freshman season but her debut lived every bit up to the hype.
In her first game under legendary head coach Pat Summitt, Parker recorded a double-double -- 19 points and 10 rebounds -- in 25 minutes of play. Later that season against Army, Parker became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game…and then she did it again in the same game.
Within a season-and-a-half of playing, Parker set a program record for fastest to 1,000 career points. She followed that up with back-to-back national championships before declaring for the WNBA draft with one year of eligibility remaining.
Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon
Sabrina Ionescu walked so that Caitlin Clark could run.
The two guards similarly operated as a Swiss Army knife, doing a little bit of everything to lead teams that weren’t historic powerhouses to the highest echelons of women’s basketball. All three of Oregon’s Elite Eight appearances came with Ionescu leading the charge. Similarly, Clark has powered the Hawkeyes back to the Final Four the first time in three decades.
Clark’s 11 career-triple doubles are good for second-most all time, but Ionescu firmly has her number with 26. That said, almost half of Clark’s have come this season so there’s always the potential for her to go off as a senior and have something to chase.
Breanna Stewart, UConn
Rounding out the list is arguably the most dominant college basketball player in the past decade.
Stewart did what none of these UConn legends before her could -- win four-straight national championships. She also joined the aforementioned Cheryl Miller as the only players to win three Naismith Awards.
One of the most impressive parts of Stewart’s college game was her ability to consistently reach new heights. As a senior -- just when it seemed like there were no other awards or records to chase after -- she recorded career-best points (19.4) and rebounds (8.7) all while shooting an incredibly efficient 57.9% from the field.