Top 10 NCAA women's basketball championship games of all time
The NCAA women’s basketball championship games have produced some of the most memorable and inspiring moments in sports history. We rank the 10 greatest WNCAAB championship games in history.
March Madness has given rise to some of the most magnificent championship games in women’s college basketball history. These matchups have left a lasting impression on college basketball fans and solidified the sport's place in the athletic world.
The thrill of Arike Ogunbowale's game-winning 3-pointer for Notre Dame still echoes through the memories of those who witnessed it, but it is just one many great moments. This compilation of the finest title games in women’s college basketball history features some iconic individuals and teams. The list includes Sheryl Swoopes, Cheryl Miller, and the miraculous UConn Huskies, who won an incredible 11 championships from 1995 to 2016.
When is the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Game?
The NCAA women’s basketball championship game will be played on April 2 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. The Dallas Mavericks’ home court is the site of the 2023 March Madness women’s final, which will, hopefully, find its way into future lists of memorable WNCAAB title games.
NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Game History
The very first official NCAA women’s basketball tournament took place in 1982, although Division I championship tournaments had been played under the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) since 1972.
That 1982 NCAA tournament featured a 32-team bracket with Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, Cheyney, and Maryland making it to the Final Four. Louisiana Tech prevailed, and years later one of its stars, Kim Mulkey, became the only woman to win the NCAA women’s tournament as both a player and coach. As the head coach at Baylor from 2000 to 2021, Mulkey directed the Bears to championships in 2005, 2012, and 2019. She moved on to become the head coach at LSU in 2021.
The 2023 NCAA women’s basketball championship game will be the 42nd in tournament history. Defending champion South Carolina will look to repeat under head coach Dawn Staley, who took part in one of the games on this list.
The average score of an NCAA women’s basketball championship game has been 73-61 while the men’s average is a few points higher at 77-68.
Ranking the Top 10 Best NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Games in March Madness History
- 2021 NCAA women's championship game: Stanford vs Arizona
Final score: Stanford 54, Arizona 53
Stanford claimed its first national title since 1992 at the 2021 tournament with a one-point, last-gasp win over Arizona at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Stanford took the early lead, but Arizona mounted a comeback in the second half, thanks to star guard Aari McDonald. Named the tournament's Most
Outstanding Player despite her team’s loss in the final, McDonald led Arizona with 22 points, five rebounds, and three steals.
Haley Jones led the Cardinal, finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds, and it was Jones who made the all-important layup to give Stanford the lead with just over 30 seconds to go. Arizona had a chance to win on the final possession, but McDonald’s shot was off-target, and the Cardinal erupted in celebration.
- 2019 Women's NCCA championship game: Baylor vs Notre Dame
Final score: Baylor 82, Notre Dame 81
This game saw Chloe Jackson drive Baylor to its third national title with a 26-point, five-assist performance. The Lady Bears’ Lauren Cox got hurt in the third quarter while Baylor was leading, and the advantage quickly fell away after Cox’s exit.
Arike Ogunbowale, the hero of the 2018 NCAA women’s basketball final for Notre Dame, had another big night in her encore -- scoring a game-high 31 points. She had the hot hand down the stretch and played a major role in bringing the Fighting Irish back into the game. The Notre Dame star had a chance to repeat her heroics from the year before in the game’s dying moments, but a missed free throw ended Notre Dame’s hopes, and the Lady Bears went on to win.
Baylor’s victory capped off an incredible 37-1 season. Head coach Kim Mulkey became the third coach in women's college basketball history to win three national titles, joining Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt.
- 2014 NCAA Women's basketball championship game: UConn vs Notre Dame
Final score: UConn 79, Notre Dame 58
The 2014 women’s championship game was the first and only tournament finale to feature two undefeated teams. UConn was the defending champion, and Notre Dame was looking for the second title in school history.
The game was dominated by UConn. The Huskies led for most of the game and never allowed Notre Dame to draw closer than eight points in the second half. The brilliance of Breanna Stewart was among the championship game’s major highlights. The former Huskies star scored 21 points and posted nine rebounds in leading UConn to its ninth title.
UConn’s win polished off a perfect 40-0 season and gave the Huskies back-to-back national championships for the second time under head coach Geno Auriemma, who became the first coach in NCAA history to win nine women’s national championships. Auriemma’s coaching ability was the driving force in the most impressive dynasty run in women’s college basketball history.
- 1995 WNCAA championship: UConn vs Tennessee
Final score: UConn 70, Tennessee 64
The 1995 NCAA women’s basketball championship game at Minneapolis’ Target Center saw two of the game’s greatest coaches go head-to-head on the biggest stage. UConn’s Geno Auriemma was searching for his first title as head coach of the Huskies, while Tennessee’s Pat Summit was looking for her fourth.
The game was only the second meeting of the two teams, but it will be remembered as the cornerstone of a budding rivalry for two of the women’s game’s greatest programs.
Auriemma got the better of Summit’s Tennessee Volunteers in this one. The Huskies beat the Vols 70-64 on the strength of Jennifer Rizzotti’s go-ahead layup – one of the most memorable plays in tournament history.
- 1991 WNCAA basketball championship: Tennessee vs Virginia
Final score Tennessee 70, Virginia 67 (OT)
The 1991 final featured Pat Summit’s Tennessee Volunteers, who had continued to dominate NCAA women’s basketball in a hunt for their third title. This time the challenger came in the form of the Virginia Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers were a worthy opponent, led by a 26-point and eight-rebound performance from Heather Burge, who played alongside her twin sister, Heidi.
Tennessee boasted its own exceptional talent, as Dawn Staley led the Lady Vols with 27 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Staley, who went on to a WNBA career, is now the coach of defending national champion South Carolina. Back in 1991, she led the charge for Summitt’s Lady Vols. With help from teammate Daedra Charles and Co., Staley and Summitt secured Tennessee’s third title.
Summitt had once claimed that if she won three titles she could happily retire, since three would be enough for her. She reached her goal, but hardly retired at that point, since she went on to capture five more for a total of eight.
- 1983 WNCAA championship game: USC vs Louisiana Tech
Final score: USC 69, Louisiana Tech 67
The second NCAA championship game in women’s basketball history featured a matchup between defending champion Louisiana Tech and the challenging USC Trojans. At the time, college basketball was just getting to know a certain freshman named Cheryl Miller, who would go on to become a legend of the game.
Miller, named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led the Trojans with 27 points and nine rebounds to deny Louisiana Tech back-to-back titles. USC would return to the final game and go home as women’s college basketball champions for a second time in 1984.
During her college career, Miller was named the Naismith Player of the Year three years in a row. She is still considered one of the most talented players in women’s basketball history.
- 2006 WNCAAB championship: Maryland vs Duke
Final score: Maryland 78, Duke 75 (OT)
The 2006 women’s final featured a dramatic Maryland comeback after an apparently stronger Duke team had led the game by as many as 13 points.
Kristi Toliver. who led the Terrapins’ rally, hit a clutch 3-pointer that tied the game at 70-70 with five seconds left in regulation. The incredible shot kept her team alive, and she took control once again during the overtime.
Toliver was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and her heroics capped off a very memorable Terrapins run to the 2006 championship. It was only the second overtime game in championship history and marked the second-largest comeback in the NCAA women’s tournament final.
- 1994 WNCAAB championship: North Carolina vs Louisiana Tech
Final score: North Carolina 60, Louisiana Tech 59
As far as women’s NCAA championship games go, the 1994 March Madness final ranks among the very best. Louisiana Tech led 59-57 with 0.7 seconds left on the clock and needed to stop just one UNC inbound play from under its own basket to seal the championship.
The play would become one of the all-time greatest in women’s college basketball history. As the Tar Heels looked to inbound the basketball -- trying to find one final shot to at least tie the game --Tonya Sampson ran through the paint as if to receive the pass, while Charlotte Smith backed out to the 3-point line. These movements seemed to confuse Louisiana Tech, which left Smith wide open behind the arc.
Smith fired off a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining, and it dropped just as the buzzer sounded. Immediately, she had ecstatic UNC players, fans, and coaches piling on top of her as the Louisiana Tech players looked on in disbelief.
If you’re looking for outstanding finishes at NCAA women’s basketball games, the 1994 final at Richmond Coliseum is a great place to start.
- 1993 WNCAAB championship: Texas Tech vs Ohio State
Final score: Texas Tech 84, Ohio State 82
Sheryl Swoopes is one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time, and her performance in the 1993 final is one of the very best individual efforts in NCAA women’s basketball history.
In this game against Ohio State, Texas Tech’s Swoopes set multiple records that still stand today. She scored 47 points -- the most by any player in a men’s or women’s final. She also broke WNCAA records for points in a half with 24, the highest free-throw percentage (100 percent on 11-for-11 shooting), most field goals (16), and most total points scored in the Final Four.
Ohio State gave its best effort and kept the game close, but the night belonged to Swoopes. She scored five points in the game’s final two minutes as Texas Tech claimed the NCAA title. It is remembered as just one of many instances in which the all-time great Swoopes earned her legendary status.
- 2018 WNCAAB championship game: Notre Dame vs Mississippi State
Final score: Notre Dame 61, Mississippi State 58
One of the greatest showings in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament will forever belong to Arike Ogunbowale of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Although her 31-point performance a year later was not quite enough to claim back-to-back titles in 2019, she made all the difference in 2018, when her famous buzzer-beater was enough to give anybody goosebumps.
The Irish had fallen behind the Bulldogs and trailed by 15 points, but Notre Dame rallied for a 16-1 run in the second half – registering one of the greatest comebacks in a women’s basketball championship game.
The game was tied when Ogunbowale hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win the national title for the Fighting Irish. Her magical shot stunned the entire crowd at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. What a great player Arike Ogunbowale was for the Irish in what is undoubtedly one of the very best games in college basketball history.
Parameters for ranking
These all-time great women’s NCAA tournament championship games have been ranked based on multiple factors. These include each game’s entertainment value and any memorable performances by outstanding players, such as Sheryl Swoopes and Arike Ogunbowale.
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