Ranking undefeated teams in NCAA D-I women's basketball
By M.A. Voepel,2023-03-30
DALLAS -- Trying to rank the undefeated teams in NCAA women's basketball history is like ranking beautiful sunsets. Is anything more perfect than perfect?
Still, as No. 1 seed South Carolina enters the 2023 women's Final Four at 36-0, the question arises: How do the Gamecocks potentially stack up against the nine women's college basketball teams that have gone undefeated in the NCAA era?
The Gamecocks have to win two more games to join those teams, starting Friday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) against Iowa in the national semifinals. If South Carolina does it, the Gamecocks will become the 10th team and fifth women's program to go unbeaten since the NCAA began governing women's sports in 1981-82. UConn has been perfect six times, and Baylor , Tennessee and Texas once each.
Depth and defense have defined these 2022-23 Gamecocks, who are expected to have the No. 1 pick in April's WNBA draft with senior post player Aliyah Boston . The quality of depth for this team probably most closely compares to the 1985-86 Texas Longhorns, the first Division I women's basketball team in the NCAA era to go undefeated.
South Carolina is going for its second consecutive NCAA title and third overall. To do it without a loss is just extra icing on the cake. All season, coach Dawn Staley has said her team hasn't carried its undefeated status like a burden, and there's no reason to expect the Gamecocks will start now.
But the undefeated club is still at nine. While it's hard to pick which perfect team is "last" -- such a designation doesn't seem to fit -- it isn't hard to select No. 1: a team led by five future WNBA first-round draft picks, including Sue Bird.
Here is how we rank the undefeated teams, from great to ... super great.
9. 2013-14 UConn Huskies (40-0)
One of these fantastic teams has to be last. And with six UConn teams on the list, it's like splitting hairs to distinguish between several of them. This Breanna Stewart -led UConn team won the most games of any of the perfect UConn squads. But the Huskies weren't the only perfect team that season until the very last day. Notre Dame also were unbeaten until the championship game, which the Fighting Irish lost 79-58 to UConn.
Even though that 2014 final featured two undefeated teams, it didn't have quite the luster it could have because Notre Dame wasn't at full strength. Standout post player Natalie Achonwa had suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Irish's regional final. The Huskies, who had won the 2013 title behind freshman Stewart, still would have been a big favorite in 2014 even if Notre Dame had Achonwa. But it would have been a better battle with her.
8. 2011-12 Baylor Bears (40-0)
Baylor was on a mission behind junior Brittney Griner and sophomore Odyssey Sims, the center-guard combo that made the Bears go. As a freshman in 2010, Griner helped lead Baylor to the Final Four, where the Bears lost by 20 in the semifinals to a UConn team that you will soon see on this list.
Texas A&M knocked Baylor out in the 2011 regional final en route to a national championship. But in 2012, nothing could stop the Bears. At the regional final, Baylor beat Tennessee in the last game Pat Summitt coached. At the Final Four, the Bears topped Stanford by 12 points and then Notre Dame by 19. Baylor looked poised to repeat the next year before being upset by Louisville in the Sweet 16.
7. 2009-10 UConn Huskies (39-0)
It's hard to split up this team and the 2008-09 Huskies, as both were led by UConn legends Maya Moore and Tina Charles . This year's championship made the Huskies the first Division I women's program to have consecutive unbeaten seasons, which set them on the path to break the longest winning streak in D-I basketball: the 88-game mark set by the UCLA men's program. The Huskies would go on, in fact, to reach 90 wins in a row before that streak ended in December 2010.
Along with Moore and Charles, Tiffany Hayes was another prominent future WNBA player on this squad. The Huskies clobbered all their foes up until the NCAA final against Stanford. That game nearly ended UConn's perfection. It was ugly -- UConn trailed 20-12 at halftime -- but the Huskies came back behind Moore's 23 points and 11 rebounds to win 53-47.
6. 2015-16 UConn Huskies (38-0)
As good as these Huskies were, it could have been even worse for everyone else. Because the season before, 2014-15, they had just one loss. That's how close they were to three consecutive perfect seasons. Led by Stewart, the WNBA's No. 1 draft pick in 2016, this UConn squad started what turned into the longest winning streak in Division I basketball history: 111 games, which ended at the 2017 Final Four.
Stewart won her fourth consecutive most outstanding player award, along with four NCAA titles in a row, just as she promised she would when she came to UConn. In the national championship game, the Huskies demolished Syracuse 82-51. Stewart went on after that to win an Olympic gold medal with the United States in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, and the WNBA Rookie of the Year award.
5. 1994-95 UConn Huskies (35-0)
From a historical impact perspective, this team might rank first, because it started Huskiesmania and changed the national landscape. UConn had been to the women's Final Four in 1991, losing in the semifinals, but the 1994-95 group truly captured fans' hearts. Rebecca Lobo , Jennifer Rizzotti , Kara Wolters, Jamelle Elliott and Nykesha Sales were the Huskies' stars that year, and they're still popular in Connecticut.
The Huskies beat Tennessee in a Martin Luther King Day showdown for the No. 1 ranking, and then met the Lady Vols again in the national championship game, winning 70-64. They had one close call before the Final Four, as Virginia were within three points of UConn late in the regional final before a critical five-second call went against the Cavaliers on an inbounds play.
4. 1985-86 Texas Longhorns (34-0)
Texas was one of the last holdouts to leave the AIAW for the NCAA. The Longhorns lost to Rutgers in the last AIAW championship game in 1982, which got less publicity than the NCAA tournament, won by Louisiana Tech . But the AIAW era ended then, and Texas became an NCAA power.
The Longhorns had been devastated by a last-second loss to Western Kentucky in the 1985 Sweet 16, as it kept them from having a chance to play in the Final Four on their home court in Austin, Texas. The Longhorns had six seniors in 1985-86 who were not going to let them fall short again.
They had a nail-biter in the regional final, beating Ole Miss by just three points. Led by freshman Clarissa Davis, the most outstanding player at the Final Four, Texas paid back Western Kentucky with a 25-point win in the national semifinals. Then the Longhorns topped Cheryl Miller and USC by 16 points in the championship game.
3. 2008-09 UConn Huskies (39-0)
This group was led by Moore, Charles and Renee Montgomery, all of whom went on to successful WNBA careers. These Huskies started what was then the longest Division I basketball winning streak, reaching 90 games before it ended in December 2010.
No opponent really came close to this team; its smallest margin of victory in the regular season was 10 points, and in the NCAA tournament, it was 19 points. The Huskies won their six NCAA tournament games by an average of 25.2 points, including a 22-point blowout of Louisville in the national championship game in St. Louis.
2. 1997-98 Tennessee Lady Vols (39-0)
Led by Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall -- nicknamed the "Three Meeks" -- the Lady Vols had just one real scare along the way, when they trailed North Carolina by 12 in the regional final. But this group wasn't going to be denied in pursuit of Tennessee's third consecutive national championship.
The Lady Vols rallied to defeat North Carolina 76-70, and then dominated their Final Four foes, beating Arkansas by 28 points and Louisiana Tech by 18. While it seemed at the time as if nothing would stop Tennessee for the foreseeable future, the Lady Vols wouldn't win another NCAA title for nine years.
The "Meeks" would all play in the WNBA, with the most successful being Catchings. She led the Indiana Fever to the 2012 league championship and two other appearances in the WNBA Finals.
1. 2001-02 UConn Huskies (39-0)
Seniors Sue Bird (No. 1 pick), Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams were all taken in the first round of the 2002 draft, and Diana Taurasi was the No. 1 pick in 2004. This starting five is why many consider the 2001-02 Huskies to be the greatest women's college hoops team.
They were fueled by a loss to Notre Dame in the 2001 national semifinals, a defeat that still stung when they started the next season. They were determined nothing would stop them, and nothing did.
In the NCAA tournament, they won their games by an average of 26.8 points. Only Oklahoma came close, but still lost by 12 in the national championship game. To get a historical sense of how great this team was, consider that 21 years later, Taurasi is still playing in the WNBA and Bird just retired after last season.
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