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Mike Lopresti | | March 15, 2022

27 singular accomplishments to celebrate the NCAA women's tournament turning 40

5 things to look forward to in the 2022 women's NCAA tournament

It’s the big 4-0 for the women’s NCAA tournament, and here’s what a tour through the record book tells us: There was no shortage of unusual feats and quirky numbers in the first 39 years.

To mark the 40th birthday as the opening games near, here’s a sampling:

1. The men have not seen a champion with a perfect record in 45 seasons. The women have had nine in their 39 years.

2. Tennessee won the 1989 national championship, beating Maryland 77-65 and Auburn 76-60 at the Final Four, without trying a single 3-point shot.

WINNING IT ALL: The complete list of DI women's basketball champions

3. There have been 10 Final Four games decided by one point. Stanford has played in five of them, including the Cardinal’s 54-53 championship win over Arizona last April. Stanford is 3-2 in those games.

4. Tennessee is just ahead of Connecticut at the top of the all-time NCAA tournament victory list, 126-125. After the first nine years of the tournament, Tennessee had 28. Connecticut had zero.

5. Texas Tech’s Sheryl Swoopes scored 47 points in the 84-82 title-clinching win over Ohio State in 1993. She needed only 24 field-goal attempts to set the championship game scoring record, partly because she missed just eight shots and partly because she had 11 free throws. That record still stands 29 years later. No one else has scored more than 31.

6. North Carolina’s Charlotte Smith is well-remembered for her buzzer-beating jumper that gave the Tar Heels the national championship over Louisiana Tech 60-59 in 1994. She wore the same No. 23 as Michael Jordan, whose late shot handed the North Carolina men a championship 12 years earlier. That 23 was a key number in this narrative. What sometimes gets forgotten is she also had 23 rebounds, a title game record that has never been surpassed.

7. Only one Most Outstanding Player in Final Four history was not a member of the team that won the championship. She might have a little something to do with the Final Four this year, too. Dawn Staley, Virginia’s star in 1991, is now coach for No. 1 South Carolina.

8. The last time Connecticut did not advance to the Final Four was 2007. Huskies’ sophomore and 2021 national player of the year Paige Bueckers would soon register for kindergarten.

9. The highest individual scoring game in the history of the women’s tournament came on the 10th day of the existence of the women’s tournament. Drake’s Lorri Bauman put up 50 points in an 89-78 loss to Maryland in the 1982 Elite Eight.  She averaged 36.7 in three games, a bar set in the tournament’s debut year that has still not been topped four decades later.  In those three games, she had 42 free throws and made 38.

10. There have been six regionals held in the state of Connecticut and the Huskies were in all of them. They won five, and went 11-1. So, North Carolina State, how do you enjoy being No. 1 seed in the Bridgeport regional with Connecticut sitting there at No. 2?

11. In 1995, Duke had the third highest-scoring game in NCAA tournament history with 120 points — and lost. Alabama had 121 in the four-overtime shootout. The two teams combined to put up 207 field-goal attempts in 60 minutes. The next game Alabama played was a loss to UConn. The Tide scored 56 points.

12. Tennessee is in this year’s field, same as always. Forty tournaments, 40 Volunteer bids. And 34 Sweet 16 trips.

BRAGGING RIGHTS: Teams with the most national championships

13. The No. 1 ranked team has won 20 of the 39 championships, and 10 of the past 12. The No. 1 team in the men’s tournament has won only two of the past 22.

Never mind how No. 1 seeds have dominated No. 16s in the first round. The carnage goes a lot deeper than that. Seed Nos. 16, 15 and 14 are 1-323 — repeat 1-323 — against Nos. 1, 2 and 3. The lonely exception to this rule was 1998, when No. 16 Harvard took down No. 1 Stanford 71-67. The Cardinal were without two key injured players. Had they been at full strength, we might be looking at 0-324. But in recent years have come a whiff of hope for the underdogs. No. 1 Texas A&M edged No. 15 Troy by four points last March, No. 2 Iowa slid by No. 15 Mercer by five and No. 3 North Carolina State held off No. 14 Maine by six in 2019.

LOOK: How to pick NCAA women’s basketball tournament upsets, according to the data

14. Only two teams seeded lower than No. 2 have ever won a national championship, and those were No. 3s Tennessee and North Carolina, 25 and 28 years ago. Only eight teams seeded lower than No. 4 — that’s eight out of 156 — had advanced to the Final Four. 

15. There have been 43 different programs in the Final Four. Since C. Vivian Stringer has coached for three of them — Cheyney, Iowa and Rutgers — she personally accounts for seven percent of the list.

16. The SEC has had 39 teams appear in the Final Four. Way back in second is the Big East with 24. The Big Ten and Big 12 have had nine each. 

17. This tournament will have something none of the first 39 did — a player who scored 61 points in one game. Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee will make the first NCAA tournament appearance of her life Friday against Washington State in Raleigh.

18. There is more than one way to secure a championship. In Connecticut’s last title in 2016, the Huskies won at the Final Four by 29 and 31. This past April, Stanford won by 1 and 1.  No champion — male or female — had ever done that before.

19. There have been 20 games in tournament history where a team committed 32 or more turnovers. On the other (steadier) hand, there have been 17 games where a team committed five or fewer.

20. Two coaches — Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and Tennessee’s Pat Summitt — have won 19 of the first 39 national titles, or 48.7 percent.

21. IUPUI, Incarnate Word and Longwood became the 288th, 289th and 290th different schools to play in the NCAA tournament this year. Longwood’s men were invited for the first time, too. The men and women earned their bids the same day.

22. The South Dakota State women did not earn an 11th tournament bid despite leading the nation in 3-point field goal percentage. The South Dakota State men led the nation in 3-point shooting, too. But they made it in the bracket.

23. In 15 years from 2004-2018, Notre Dame was in six overtime games in the tournament. The Irish won five of them.

24. In Connecticut’s latest golden era of 2013-16, the Huskies won four consecutive national championships, with 19 of the 24 tournament victories by at least 20 points and an average winning margin of 33.8. The next two seasons after that, they would be knocked out of the Final Four on last-second shots by Mississippi State and Notre Dame.

25. Five of the past 15 national championship games have been decided between two teams from the same conference, including Stanford and Arizona of the Pac-12 last season. The men haven’t seen such a thing since Kansas-Oklahoma 34 years ago.

26. Penn State beat Clemson 96-75 in the first round in 1982. Why is that important? It was the first game in the history of the women’s NCAA tournament.

27. The past three national championship games have been decided by 1, 1 and 3 points. Four of the past eight national semifinals have either gone overtime or been settled by a single point. The sport can only hope for the same come April 3 in Minneapolis.

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