The national championship picture is more up in the air than it's been in years. In addition to Stanford, here are four other teams who have the talent, experience and pedigree to go the distance.
This is an article from the March 21, 2011 issue
IN MAYA MOORE, UConn coach Geno Auriemma has a national player of the year and the leader of a senior class that is 146--3 with three Final Four berths and a pair of national championships. Moore has averaged 22.8 points this season (fifth best nationally), but for UConn to win its third straight title, junior guard Tiffany Hayes (13.9) and freshman center Stefanie Dolson (15.0 over the last three games) must put up some points. The defense remains stout. "The thing we always pride ourselves in doing is playing so well defensively that those nights where you're not going to score a lot of points and you're not getting a lot of shots to drop, you give yourself a chance to win," says Auriemma. Since their 90-game winning streak ended at Stanford on Dec. 30, the Huskies (32--1) have won 20 straight.
Of the teams (Stanford, UConn and Baylor) that have ruled women's basketball this season, only the Cardinal and the Lady Bears have yet to meet. That would be a sensational matchup, given the athleticism and scoring balance of Stanford's front line against the sport's singular defensive force: Baylor's 6'8" sophomore center Brittney Griner. Sure the Lady Bears (31--2) are young (shooting guard Melissa Jones, whom coach Kim Mulkey calls the team's "glue," is the team's lone senior in the regular rotation), but Griner averages 22.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and a 4.5 blocks, second best in the nation. Freshman point guard Odyssey Sims (13.5 points, 3.1 assists) has also emerged as a major offensive threat; she scored 37 points in an 82--81 win at Oklahoma on Feb. 27, including tying a school-record nine three-pointers. Then there is the D: Baylor held opponents to just 32.1% shooting, the nation's stingiest number.
Tennessee (31--2) ran the table in the SEC during the regular season and has won 22 consecutive games since a 65--54 loss at Baylor on Dec. 14. Coach Pat Summitt has talked frequently about this unit's focus, chemistry and athleticism, and the results have been impressive, especially on defense. Tennessee is fifth in the nation in field goal percentage defense (33.1%) and rebounding margin (11.9). The Lady Vols are a deep and skilled perimeter-shooting group led by junior swingman Shekinna Stricklen, the SEC player of the year, who is averaging 12.6 points and 7.5 rebounds. Junior forward Glory Johnson averaged a double double (13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds) in SEC play, and the conference's freshman of the year, Meighan Simmons (a team-leading 13.7 points), is a confident point guard who plays with a senior's poise.
Xavier (28--2) lost in cruel fashion in last year's Elite Eight: After Dee Dee Jernigan missed a pair of open shots in the final 15 seconds, Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen went coast to coast for the game-winning layup at the buzzer. "You don't forget a moment like that, but we took a lot of confidence away knowing we could compete with anyone in the country," says coach Kevin McGuff. The Musketeers' only stumbles this season are road losses to Stanford and Duke, and the team boasts an All-America frontcourt in 6'5" forward Amber Harris (18.8 points) and 6'6" senior center Ta'Shia Phillips (15.9), an expected top pick in the WNBA draft who ranks second nationally with 12.4 rebounds. "When you are in the A-10, everyone looks at you like, How good are they?" McGuff says. "It gives us a chip on our shoulder."