'09 women's hoops stories: A year of milestones

Jeremy Stone
Yahoo! Sports

Women's basketball in 2009 brought us familiar champions in both the NCAA and WNBA, the end of some stellar careers (and franchises) and some milestones that some thought we never would see. The new year and decade promise much more of the same, as Tennessee appears ready to mount at least a challenge to the Connecticut juggernaut and the WNBA hopes to pull through a turbulent time in its history.

Let's look back at the storylines of 2009.

College starting five

5. Griner arrives amid hoopla: Rivals.com's No. 1 high school player arrived at Baylor with an army of YouTube dunks under her belt and hype usually reserved for recruits in Storrs and Knoxville. So far, Brittney Griner has proved she's more than a dunk machine. She already broke the Big 12 record for blocks in a game with 11 in a triple-double performance on Dec. 16 vs. Oral Roberts.

"You already have to put her in the company of some of the other greats like Candace Parker and Maya Moore," Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said

High praise for someone with 12 games under her belt.

4. Paris' promise: Oklahoma superstar Courtney Paris made national news by pledging to repay her scholarship if the Sooners didn't win the national championship. Never mind that Connecticut hadn't lost all season and had beaten Oklahoma by 28.

Paris never got the chance for a rematch with the Huskies, as Oklahoma lost a heartbreaker in the Final Four to Louisville. But the folks in Norman said they wouldn't harass their four-time All-American to pay up.

3. Ball State beats Tennessee in first round: Two-time defending champion Tennessee was adjusting to life without Parker and staggered through a difficult regular season. Clearly the Lady Vols' unblemished run of 27 straight NCAA Sweet 16s would face a stern test in the second round.

But fifth-seeded Tennessee didn't make it that far. Ball State dominated the Lady Vols 71-55 in the opening round at Bowling Green, Ky., on March 22. No defending champ ever had failed to win its first tourney game the following season.

2. UConn doesn't lose – or even come close: Connecticut brings a 49-game winning streak into Monday's game at No. 12 Florida State, where a victory would give the Huskies a 38-0 mark in the calendar year. No opposing team has even lost by single digits.

The Huskies never lost by fewer than 19 points in a dominant march through the NCAA tournament and routed conference rival Louisville 76-54 in the title game at St. Louis for their first national championship in five seasons.

1. Summitt hits 1,000: It was our top story of the decade, so it might look a little silly anywhere else on our list of the biggest stories of 2009. On Feb. 5 – later than she would have liked – Pat Summitt earned her 1,000th career victory, a 73-43 rout of longtime rival Andy Landers and Georgia.

"Wow," she said as she soaked in the admiration of the masses at Thompson Boling Arena. "This may be a little hard for me."

But she got through it fine and got a new contract. And though the Lady Vols crashed out in the first round of the NCAA tourney, Tennessee ended the calendar year No. 4 in the polls.

Pro starting five

5. NBDL team names Lieberman coach: When the Dallas Mavericks' NBDL affiliate in Frisco, Texas, tips off play in 2010-11, the players will be taking orders from a Hall of Famer. Nancy Lieberman will become the first woman to serve as a head coach working with NBA players (and NBA hopefuls).

Lieberman had been out of coaching since a three-year stint with the Detroit Shock ended a decade ago, but Frisco co-owner Donnie Nelson hired her last month to make history.

4. Taurasi arrested, pleads guilty to DUI: It's a testament to the rarity of publicized off-court incidents involving women's basketball figures that a DUI would crack a list of top stories of the year. But Diana Taurasi made headlines when she was cited for DUI months before winning her first WNBA MVP award.

Taurasi served a two-game suspension and after the season spent a day in jail. Before the suspension, she issued a statement that she has "learned a valuable lesson" from the experience.

3. Shock waves hit league: Already down a franchise from the previous year after the Houston Comets disbanded, the WNBA continued to face franchise turmoil. The three-time champion Detroit Shock moved to Tulsa in October and hired former Arkansas NCAA championship coach Nolan Richardson.

A month later, the Sacramento Monarchs folded. The league had hoped to move the team to the Bay Area for the coming season but couldn’t make it happen. Tulsa moved to the West to give the league two six-team conferences.

Only five of the league's 13 championships have been won by teams that still exist or play in the same city.

2. Mercury open Finals with highest-scoring win: It may not have been the marquee matchup the league had hoped for, but the WNBA Finals quickly proved worth watching. The Phoenix Mercury edged the Indiana Fever 120-116 in overtime on Sept. 29 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.

"Well, if you didn’t like women's basketball," Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said, "I think you do now."

1. Leslie retires: The WNBA's all-time leading scorer and rebounder didn't go out the way she would have liked, but it also was appropriate. Leslie has fouled out of nearly twice as many games as anyone else, and she was disqualified with 1:39 left in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Sept. 26. Leslie had 22 points and nine rebounds in the Los Angeles Sparks' 85-74 loss at the Mercury.

After three MVPs, two championships, four Olympic gold medals, 6,263 points and 3,307 rebounds, Leslie wants to spend more time raising her 2-year-old daughter, Lauren Lockwood, and the baby that is on the way.

Her retirement, and Vickie Johnson's as well, leaves the league with only one original star still active, Sparks teammate Tina Thompson, who may break Leslie's scoring record in 2010. But she won't fill the void left by the loss of Leslie, essentially the face of the WNBA since its inception 13 years ago.

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