The 10 Best Players in UConn Women's Basketball History (The Geno Era)
The UConn Huskies women's basketball team is a legitimate contender in a "most successful sports programs in American history" conversation.
This success began with the hiring of Geno Auriemma. No offense to any former players B.G. (Before Geno), but I was on campus when he was hired in 1985. This was still the dark ages for female athletics—I wasn't even positive we had a team. Tickets to their games were free, and were often bundled with the men's games.
Oh, how far we've come.
Without further ado, my picks for the Top 10 (feel free to disagree).
No. 10: Swin Cash
A member of the inaugural class (2006) of inductees to the University of Connecticut women's basketball "Huskies of Honor," Swin helped guide the Huskies to National Championships in 2000 and the undefeated 2002 season.
Swin could do a little of everything on the basketball court, and finished her collegiate career with a 55% FG percentage.
The second overall pick in the 2002 WNBA draft, Swin helped lead the Detroit Shock to the championship in just her second year.
No. 9: Jennifer Rizzotti
The absolute heart of the UConn Huskies from 1992-1996, Jennifer was as tough as they come. She embodied the "coach on the floor" ethos of the PG so much, she is now a head coach at the University of Hartford.
Jen did more than almost anyone to get the Huskies their first perfect season and first national championship in 1995.
No. 8: Renee Montgomery
The Huskies entered a "dark period" when Diana Taurasi graduated in 2004. A lot of the pressure to return UConn to their "rightful place" at the top of the women's basketball world fell on freshman PG Renee Montgomery.
Renee blossomed in her sophomore year, continued to improve each year, and led the Huskies to a perfect season and sixth national championship in her final year.
No. 7: Tina Charles
Really tough to keep a school's all-time leader in points and rebounds off a Top 10 list, isn't it?
In all probability, Tina will finish her UConn career with two national titles to go along with her individual accolades.
No. 6: Maya Moore
I almost feel silly putting Maya down here at No. 6.
Big East Player of the Year as a freshman, then again as a sophomore. Best player on a team with 69 (and counting) consecutive double-digit victories.
Oh yeah, and she's quite possibly the most physically gifted female basketball player that I have ever seen.
If I happen to revisit such a list next year when Maya graduates, there is a good chance she's moving up quite a few spots.
One more thing—Maya is considering applying for Rhodes scholarship next year. You know, in case that basketball thing doesn't work out for her.
No. 5: Nykesha Sales
From right here in Connecticut came Nykesha Sales. Two-time All-American, a member of the '95 championship team, and, until recently, the school's all-time leader in points scored.
I mentioned in a recent column that I was glad Nykesha was passed by Tina Charles due to the staged nature of Nykesha's record breaking points. In the interest of fairness, I should point out that the previous record holder had no problem with the staged points, nor did the opposing team. It wasn't Nykesha's idea. Coach Geno had been sitting Sales for the fourth quarter (and sometimes more) in almost every blowout game. He felt he owed her the two points.
No. 4: Sue Bird
Is it possible to dislike Sue Bird? No, it isn't.
Bird remains my all-time favorite women's basketball player.
An insane 114-4 record in the games she played at UConn. An average of one loss per year...Are you kidding me?
The PG and undisputed leader of the "TASS Force" (Tamika, Ashja, Swin, & Sue), Bird led the Huskies to two national championships and a Final Four appearance after losing most of her freshman year to an ACL injury.
No. 3: Kerry Bascom
Good luck finding pics of a UConn women's hoops player from the 1980s.
No matter, Kerry was The One who started it all. I remember when she got to campus. Everything about the UConn program started when Geno was able to convince this dominating C/F from New Hampshire to attend UConn in 1987.
In 1989, Kerry led the Huskies to their first ever Big East regular season title, Big East tournament title, and first ever NCAA tournament appearance.
In 1990, we get our first NCAA tournament win, and in 1991, the school's first ever Final Four appearance.
Kerry used to have to explain to people that she went to "UConn," not "Yukon." For that matter, so did I.
Kerry started it all—Kerry led to...No. 2 (keep reading).
No. 2: Rebecca Lobo
What to say about Rebecca?
The 6'4" center could have gone to her pick of schools. Thanks to the work Kerry Bascom and her teammates did in the late '80s, UConn was now a viable option for a player of Lobo's stature.
From 1991 to her graduation in 1995, Lobo was UConn women's basketball. She averaged over 17 PPG over the course of her career, and was the unstoppable force during the perfect 1995 season.
Watching the growth of the program under Lobo, Rizzotti, Jamelle Elliot, and their teammates slowly became a state-wide past-time. This was the group that propelled "Huskiemania" into the force it is today. The entire sport of women's basketball owes a debt to that '95 UConn team.
Over 100,000 fans went to Hartford to honor the team after they won the '95 title. Connecticut Public Television signed a historic deal with the university to televise the women's games. For the last several years, has CPTV televised every single UConn women's basketball game...the only school in women's hoops with such treatment.
Thank you, Rebecca.
No. 1: Diana Taurasi
We've reached No. 1. It is possible that Maya Moore takes this spot next year, but I'm not so sure.
Best two words to describe Diana? Michael Jordan.
Diana Taurasi was our Michael Jordan. Geno's famous and frequently used line for to describe UConn's success in big games, games where it seemed the Huskies were out-gunned, was "we have Diana, and they don't."
How true that was...
After a heartbreaking loss in the Final Four as a freshman, Diana led the Huskies to three consecutive national championships.
First there was the perfect season in 2002. Then TASS Force graduated, and it became Diana's team. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for UConn...scratch that, Diana doesn't like to lose. She carried that team, almost single-handedly at times, to a second title. Diana's senior season? You guessed it...another title delivered by the National Player of the Year.
2004 was the year that saw little Storrs, Conn., transform into the basketball capital of the world. While Diana was doing her thing, Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon were leading the men's team to a national title of their own. The first school to accomplish that feat.
It is going to be tough for any player to match the drive that Diana Taurasi brought to the court. Others may match her accomplishments, but not the way she achieved them. There will never be another Diana.