Top 10 women's college basketball players of all time
Some of the most dominant female athletes in all of sports have been among the stars of women’s college basketball. We rank the 10 greatest women’s college basketball players in NCAA history.
The development of U.S. women's basketball is closely tied to the history of the college game. Since the NCAA first sponsored women's collegiate basketball in 1982, the sport has undergone tremendous growth and transformation. The college basketball season and NCAA tournament have become key fixtures in the women’s athletic calendar, offering a platform for players to showcase their skills and compete at the highest level.
Over the years, the tournament has produced some of the most impressive stars in the game, including famed players like Lisa Leslie and Cheryl Miller. Today, the sport continues to evolve and thrive, with new stars such as Breanna Stewart and Sabrina Ionescu carrying on the tradition of excellence established by those who came before them. As NCAA women's basketball history continues to unfold, it will undoubtedly inspire future generations of athletes and fans alike.
It was an almost impossible task to compile a list of the greatest women's college basketball players of all time, because countless athletes have left their mark on the sport. Before we dive into the top 10, it's important to mention some other remarkable players who did not make the cut.
First, Louisiana State’s trio of Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, and Temeka Johnson, who led the Tigers to three consecutive Final Four appearances in the early 2000s, all deserve recognition as some of the greatest LSU women’s basketball players.
In addition to LSU’s big three, Candice Wiggins, Ticha Penicheiro, Nnemkadi Ogwumike, LaToya Thomas, Brittney Griner, Kelsey Mitchell, and Jennifer Azzi all deserve credit for their impressive accomplishments in the women’s game.
Finally, note the remarkable career of Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale, who plays for one of the best D1 women's college basketball programs. Her clutch performance at the 2018 NCAA tournament, which included a game-winning shot against UConn and a buzzer-beater to secure the national title for the Irish, will forever be remembered as one of the most stunning individual efforts in NCAA history. While she might not have made this top 10 list, her incredible showing when it mattered most was unforgettable.
Ranking the Top 10 best women’s college basketball players of all time
Who is the best women’s college basketball player of all time? Let’s dive into the list, which features 10 elite women who achieved greatness in their college careers.
- Bridgette Gordon, Tennessee (1985 to 1989)
College Career Averages: 18 PPG, 6.7 RPG
Awards: Two-time NCAA Champion (1987, 1989), NCAA Final Four MVP (1989), Four-time All SEC Team (1985-89, 1986-87, 1987-88, 1988-89), SEC Player of the Year (1988-89), SEC Female Athlete of the Year (1988-89), Two-time All-American (1987-88, 1988-89)
Tennessee legend Bridgette Gordon appeared in the NCAA Tournament Final Four in each of her four college years, winning national championships in both 1987 and 1989.
With Gordon’s talent, the Volunteers were a contender in every season she played for them and became the first school in women’s NCAA history to appear in four consecutive Final Four matchups. The University of Tennessee honored Gordon’s career achievements by retiring her No. 30 jersey in January 1990.
Gordon left Tennessee as the school’s all-time leader in scoring (2,462 points) and steals (336), and her steals record still stands despite all the talented players that followed her. The Vols were 115-21 in the four seasons Gordon played, and she is recognized as one of the most successful NCAA women’s basketball players since the program's inception.
- Kelsey Plum, Washington (2013 to 2017)
College Career Averages: 26.3 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 3.1 APG
Awards: Naismith College Player of the Year (2016-17), Wade Trophy (2016-17), John R. Wooden Award (2016-17), USBWA Player of the Year (2016-17), AP Player of the Year (2016-17), NCAA All-Time Women’s Leading Scorer
Kelsey Plum was the best player in women’s college basketball in the 2016-17 season and won just about every award available for her efforts during her season year.
She had already played three seasons for Washington, having been named team captain as a freshman due to her work ethic and determination. As a freshman, she made an immediate impact by setting six school freshman records. As a junior, Kelsey played a key role in leading the Huskies to a strong NCAA tournament run.
As a senior, she took her game to a higher level -- exploding onto the scene in a major way. Plum led the Huskies to a 29-6 record that year which included a run to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four. She averaged 31.7 points per game and finished her career with the NCAA scoring record of 3,527 points – breaking Jackie Stiles’ previous record. During her senior year, Plum scored 1,109 points – the NCAA women’s single-season record – and shot 43 percent from 3-point range.
Plum won every award there was to win in 2016-17 and was an easy choice for NCAA Player of the Year after dominating an entire season. Her stats are remarkable, and she remains the game’s all-time leading scorer six years after her college career ended.
- Sheryl Swoopes, South Plains (1989 to 1991), Texas Tech (1991 to 1993)
College Career Averages: 24.9 PPG, 8 RPG
Awards: NCAA Champion (1993), NCAA Final Four MVP (1993), Naismith National Player of the Year (1992-93), National Junior College Player of the Year (1990-91), Two-time All-American (1991-92, 1992-93)
Sheryl Swoopes initially planned to play her college basketball at the University of Texas but opted to transfer to South Plains College before what would have been her first season with the Longhorns. At South Plains, she won the National Junior College Player of the Year award before transferring to Texas Tech in 1991.
She turned into a star for the Lady Raiders, averaging almost 25 points per game and leading them to the NCAA Championship in 1993. She scored a record 47 points in the championship game and was named the Final Four MVP for her efforts. Amazingly, Swoopes went on to become the first player to sign a WNBA contract.
One of the most successful female basketball players in history, Swoopes won the NCAA championship and four WNBA championships. She also made eight WNBA All-Star Game Appearances and was a five-time All-WNBA First Team member. A three-time winner of both the WNBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards, Swoopes led the league in both scoring and steals during her 1999-00 MVP season.
- Chamique Holdsclaw, Tennessee (1995 to 1999)
College Career Averages: 20.2 PPG, 9 RPG, 2.7 APG
Awards: Three-time NCAA Champion (1996, 1997, 1998), Two-time Naismith Award (1997-98, 1998-99), Two-time AP Player of the Year (1997-98, 1998-99), Two-time USBWA Player of the Year (1997-98, 1998-99), Four-time All-American (1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99)
Bridgette Gordon was the Tennessee Volunteers’ superstar of the 1980s, and Chamique Holdsclaw was every bit as successful in the 1990s. These two women are the best to have ever played for the Lady Vols and made major contributions to a total of five NCAA championships.
Chamique Holdsclaw is a legendary player. Ranked 11th on the all-time NCAA scoring list, she became just the fifth woman to surpass 3,000 points during her college career. She played under the guidance of Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, and together they led Tennessee to an unprecedented three consecutive NCAA championships between 1996 and 1998. Their final championship victory capped off a perfect 39-0 run that set the NCAA women’s basketball record for wins in one season.
Holdsclaw's impressive college career also saw her set school records for scoring and rebounding across both the women’s and men’s programs. Additionally, she became the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in the SEC, as well as in the women's NCAA tournament. Her achievements did not stop there, as she went on to be drafted No. 1 overall by the WNBA’s Washington Mystics in 1999 and was a six-time WNBA All-Star.
- Lynette Woodard, Kentucky (1977 to 1981)
College Career Averages: 26.3 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 3.1 APG
Awards: Four-time All-American (1977-78, 1978-79, 1979-80, 1980-81), Wade Trophy (1980-81), Three Big Eight Championships (1979, 1980, 1981)
Lynette Woodard might not have the NCAA championship rings held by many of the other women on this list, but she was one of the early pioneers of women’s basketball and deserves a wealth of credit for her role in the game’s development.
Woodard averaged a huge 26.3 points per game during her four-year career with the Kansas Lady Jayhawks between 1977 and 1981. She managed 3,649 points, finishing her college career as the all-time leading scorer in women’s college basketball history.
She went on to play professionally in Italy and Japan, before becoming the first woman to join the Harlem Globetrotters. Woodard came out of retirement in 1997 to play in the first two seasons of the WNBA, spending a year with Cleveland Rockets and a second season with the Detroit Shock. The former college hoops player received an award in 2015 for being one of the standout pioneers of women’s basketball along with nine other women who had contributed so much to the game’s development.
- Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon (2016 to 2020)
College Career Averages: 18 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 7.7 APG
Awards: Naismith College Player of the Year (2019-20), AP Player of the Year (2019-20), USBWA Player of the Year (2019-20), Two-time John R. Wooden Award winner (2018-19, 2019-20), Two-time Wade Trophy winner (2018-19, 2019-20)
Sabrina Ionescu filled the stands at Oregon over the course her college career. During Ionescu’s freshman season, the Ducks’ average attendance was barely 1,500 per game. By the time she reached her final year, attendance had grown to over 10,000 per game. Those numbers are not only a testament to Ionescu’s incredible talents on the basketball court, but also to the overall growth of the women’s game.
She won nearly every award available to her as a junior in 2018-19 and led the Ducks to their first Final Four appearance. Although Oregon lost to eventual NCAA champion Baylor, Sabrina had 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the semifinal game.
Ionescu might be the greatest women’s college basketball player who never won an NCAA championship, but she gave it her very best effort. She averaged more than 19 points per game in two of her four seasons at Oregon, and hit 42 percent from 3-point range during her four years with the Ducks.
Ionescu is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles and the only player to record more than 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds. In 2020, she was drafted first overall by the New York Liberty, her current team in the WNBA.
Sabrina Ionescu is one of the leading pioneers of women’s basketball, and a keen advocate for young women who wish to follow in her footsteps. She is exactly the kind of athlete we should all be celebrating during women’s history month.
- Breanna Stewart, UConn (2012 to 2016)
College Career Averages: 17.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.8 APG
Awards: Four-time NCAA Champion (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), Four-time NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), Three-time Consensus College National Player of the Year (2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16), Three-time All-American (2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16), 3x AAC Player of the Year (2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16)
Breanna Stewart had scholarship offers from all over the country but committed to UConn after visiting the school in 2011. She had been one of the most successful high school players in the country and arrived at UConn amid the highest of expectations.
It’s safe to say that Stewart outperformed all expectations anyone might have had for her when she arrived on campus. The New York-born star won the NCAA national championship in all four seasons she spent with the Huskies, while being named the Most Outstanding Player at the tournament a record four times.
The former Huskies forward averaged 17.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.7 blocks per game during her college career. She graduated as the UConn record-holder for total blocks and ranks second in school history for points scored with 2,767. Undoubtedly one of the best women's college basketball players of all time, Stewart boasts a remarkable record of 151-5 during her college career.
Breanna Stewart went on to be the WNBA’s 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick of the Seattle Storm, where she has continued her winning ways as a pro. In her pro career to date, she has claimed two WNBA Championships, won two WNBA Finals MVP awards, and one WNBA MVP award. She has also made four WNBA All-Star Game appearances and been named to the All-WNBA First Team four times.
- Candace Parker, Tennessee (2004 to 2008)
College Career Averages: 19.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.6 APG
Awards: Two-time NCAA Champion (2007, 2008), Two-time NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player (2007, 2008), Wade Trophy (2006-07), Two-time John R. Wooden award winner (2006-07, 2007-08), Naismith Award (2007-08), Two-time AP Female Athlete of the Year (2007-08, 2020-21), Two-time USBWA Women’s National Player of the Year (2006-07, 2007-08), Three-time All-American (2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08)
In 2006, during her freshman season at Tennessee, Candace Parker became the first player to record a dunk in an NCAA women’s basketball tournament game. Later in that contest, she became the first woman to dunk twice in a tournament game. Over the course of her remarkable career with the Vols, she averaged almost 20 points per game, along with 8.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
The former Tennessee forward brought a new flair women’s basketball, making a significant impact on the game from her very early days as a redshirt-freshman in 2005. The Vols won the SEC Tournament Championship in 2006 with Parker leading the way and scoring the winning basket on the team’s road to the NCAA tournament.
Parker might have had three national championships had she not faced foul trouble in the regional finals of the 2006 tournament against North Carolina. She was forced onto the bench early, costing her a lot of minutes, and the Volunteers were ultimately eliminated that day. She came back the following year on a mission and helped Tennessee win their first of back-to-back tournament championships in 2007 and 2008 under legendary coach Pat Summitt. Parker was named the NCAA tourney’s Most Outstanding Player in both years in addition to the many other awards she claimed during her college career.
Parker was drafted No. 1 overall by the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks in 2008. She remained with the Sparks until 2020 before moving on to the Chicago Sky and the Las Vegas Aces. Among her many accolades are two WNBA Championships, seven WNBA All-Star Game appearances, and seven All-WNBA First Team selections.
- Diana Taurasi, UConn (2000 to 2004)
College Career Averages: 15 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.5 APG
Awards: Three-time NCAA Champion (2002, 2003, 2004), Two-time NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player (2003, 2004), Wade Trophy (2002-03), Two-time Naismith Award winner (2002-03, 2003-04), AP College Player of the Year (2002-03), USBWA Women’s National Player of the Year (2002-03), Three-time All-American (2001-02, 2002-03, 2003-04)
Diana Taurasi is one of the best NCAA women’s basketball players to have ever stepped on the court. Throughout her career as a professional basketball player, she has continued to dominate and win, boasting one of the most impressive resumes of championships and achievements in all of sports. Her success extends from her college career at Connecticut to her time with the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA.
Taurasi has achieved remarkable success throughout her career, cementing her place as one of the greatest players in the sport. Her impressive accomplishments include being ranked among the top college basketball players of all time and dominating the WNBA throughout her lengthy pro career, which she continues to pursue at age 40.
As a former UConn point guard, Taurasi helped lead the Huskies to an incredible three consecutive national championships from 2002 to 2004, earning the title of Most Outstanding Player at the tournament during the final championship win.
Taurasi was the first player in UConn history with career totals of 2,000 points, 600 rebounds and 600 assists, and was drafted No. 1 overall by the Mercury in 2004. She has won three WNBA titles, one WNBA MVP award, played in 10 WNBA All-Star Games, and earedn 10 All-WNBA First Team selections.
A five-time WNBA scoring leader, Taurasi has done it all, starting at UConn, where she dominated college basketball and ran the point on one of the most successful NCAA teams of all time. She is without a doubt one of the greatest female players in history.
- Cheryl Miller, USC (1982 to 1986)
College Career Averages: 23.6 PPG, 12 RPG, 3.2 APG
Awards: Two-time NCAA Champion (1983, 1984), Two-time NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player (1983-84), Sports Illustrated College Basketball Player of the Year (1985-86), Three-time Naismith Award (1983-84, 1984-85, 1985-86), Wade Trophy (1984-85), Four-time All-American (1982-83, 1983-84, 1984-85, 1985-86)
Cheryl Miller ruled women’s college basketball for four seasons with the Trojans, averaging at least 20 points per game each year on her way to 3,018 career points.
Miller led the Trojans to NCAA Tournament titles in 1983 and 1984 and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in both of those campaigns. She won the Naismith College Player of the Year award three times, as well as a Wade Trophy, and had the honor of being named Sports Illustrated College Basketball Player of the Year in her senior year, winning the award over all male and female players.
The former USC forward grew up in Riverside, Calif., and comes from a family of sports stars. She is the sister of Hall of Fame NBA player Reggie Miller and former Major League Baseball catcher Darrell Miller. Cheryl's legacy is unique and places her among the greatest athletes to have represented USC, as well as one of the pioneering stars of NCAA women’s basketball.
Miller's accomplishments as a basketball player at USC are unparalleled, as she was the first player, regardless of gender, to have her jersey retired by the school. She remains the all-time leader in numerous categories, including points, rebounds, field goals made, free throws made, games played, and steals.
She went straight into coaching as an assistant at USC in 1986, before taking over the head coaching role in 1993. When she graduated as a player, there was no WNBA for her to move into, so she chose coaching as her preferred post-playing career.
The development of the WNBA is testament to how far the women’s game of basketball has come, and that’s something that should be celebrated during women’s history month. The fact that someone as talented as Cheryl Miller didn’t have an opportunity to play professionally is a real shame. Watching her pro career unfold would have been every bit as entertaining as witnessing those four great years she spent at USC.
Parameters for Rankings
Although the professional accomplishments of some of these women have been acknowledged, they were not taken into account when ranking this list of talented women's basketball players. The rankings are based solely on their achievements as college players, with Cheryl Miller taking the No. 1 spot despite not having a pro career.
All of these women's accomplishments during their college playing days were considered, including championship victories, scoring records, and individual awards.
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