Forty-two years ago, four women’s basketball teams came together at the Norfolk Scope in Virginia to see who was the best of the best in NCAA Division I basketball for the first time. Fast forward to the turn of the millennium, and we were granted the beauty of dynasties led by legends, championships headlined by basketball prodigies, and so much more.
Since then, we’ve seen the best of the best in coaches, players, recruiting classes and more bring prestige to their programs that rival and eclipse some men’s programs. From the winningest to the most decorated, here are the best of the best in NCAA women’s basketball.
Most March Madness Championships in women's college basketball history: UConn
For four decades, a little over 2400 games and 15 champions, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the unexpected. Since we’re inching closer to the 42nd rendition, it’s right to review the winningest of all: The University of Connecticut.
Under the tutelage of Geno Auriemma, who arrived in Storrs 39 years ago, the Huskies are no stranger to winning. It’s hard to hate them and even harder to beat them in the postseason. They have a whopping 11-1 record in the championship, including a notable four-peat, the first of its kind at the DI level, Led by the then NCAA Most Outstanding Player, Breanna Stewart. The Huskies were one of eight teams to win multiple 'chips, but the only one to win more than 10.
Auriemma is not only one of the winningest on the championship front but one of the winningest coaches, period. Only being eclipsed by Tara Vanderveer this season, he crafted the Bluest of Bloods in women's AND men's hoops.
Getting nods from that one guy who played for Chicago (who got to train a young Diana Taurasi who was a free-throw short in scoring a pair of shoes at his camp), the Huskies are often revered and forever feared in the postseason. He's no stranger to bringing in the best of the best, but there's another program that even gave coach Auriemma and his Huskies a run for their money over the years.
Winningest program in women's college basketball history: Tennessee
Success comes to those who put in the work, not just in the postseason, but all season long … from beginning to end. UConn is the team with the most hardware, but when it comes to the winningest all around, the team hailing in Rocky Top takes that title. Once led by the late great Pat Summitt for nearly decades before, the Lady Vols tote a 1465-380 record and an 8-5 championship record.
The Lady Vols were known and appreciated as one of the original successful programs, bringing in the best of the best for decades. Fresh off her playing season at UT-Martin, Summit, then head coach helped them finish with their first No. 1 ranking in 1978. She followed up with her 100th victory just a year later. Tennessee could be considered the equivalent of Coach Wooden’s Bruins, with over 20 30-win seasons and not a single season under .500 season. Not only did they stay above the rest in win percentage, but they would maintain the No. 1 Ranking in the AP 565 times.
The Lady Vols wouldn’t have gotten to the top of the top had it not been for the leadership of Coach Summitt, but there’s another coach who was able to do the impossible by reaching a milestone of her own.
Winningest coach in women's college basketball history: Tara Vanderveer
The history books were rewritten a few weeks ago after a conference meeting victory for Stanford. Tara Vanderveer, whose career has spanned multiple decades, collected her 1203rd win to become the winningest college basketball coach of all time.
Starting her journey by sitting in on what was supposed to be closed practices for the Hoosiers’ basketball team, Vanderveer was simply a student of the coaching game per the Indy Star. Vanderveer continued to learn, grow, and improve her methodology, becoming the catalyst that turned teams that were once struggling into winners.
It wasn’t until 1985 that Vanderveer finally landed the Stanford job. Like Summit’s journey, she was able to see the immediate impact — going from a single-digit win season with low attendance to an uno reverse card the season she arrived. Make no mistake that Coach Vanderveer has the Midas touch, surpassing Summitt in all-time women’s basketball wins before taking the all-time crown in 2024.
With the Big Dance on the horizon and the 2023-24 season on the wind-down, it’s only a matter of time before we experience another milestone, accomplishment, etc. It’s safe to say the trajectory of women’s basketball is not only on the up and up but the success and dynasty of programs, established and up-and-coming.