It’s been a little over two weeks since the Stanford women’s basketball team cut down the nets in San Antonio, Texas, after beating Arizona, 54-53 for the NCAA women’s basketball championship. It took 29 years, but head coach Tara Vanderveer and the Stanford Cardinals are champions again.
"Getting through all the things we got through, we're excited to win the COVID championship," VanDerveer said. "The other one was not quite as close, the last one. But we're really excited. No one knows the score, no one knows who scored, it's a national championship and I'm really excited to represent Stanford.”
As the runner-up the Arizona Wildcats had to get through top seeds, Texas A&M, Indiana and the UConn Huskies. The Wildcats did just that and made history while doing so. Led by Adia Barnes, the Wildcats played in their first Elite Eight, Final Four and Championship game. Also, Barnes and South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley became the first two black women head coaches in the Final Four for the first time in NCAA history.
The 2021 NCAA women’s tournament was highly anticipated and it’s undoubtable that top teams delivered when they needed to. With that being said let’s take a look at who may be leading the show for the 2021-2022 season.
1. UConn Huskies
Head coach Geno Auriemma is still looking for his first NCAA championship since 2016. Although they couldn’t get the job done last season, his team is very skilled, and lucky for him, they are all sticking around for another run at the chip.
The Huskies are led by AP Player of the Year Paige Bueckers who holds the record for most assist as a freshman and set UConn’s single-game assists record. Bueckers is a force to be reckon with in the backcourt and in transition as she’s capable of shooting behind the arc, attacking the paint and dishing it off to a post player on any given play. She is accompanied by forward Aaliyah Edwards and guard Christyn Williams who both average double-digit points per game.
Not to mention, they are adding Azzi Fudd, the No. 1 recruit in country to the mix. Fudd and Beuckers are close friends and train with each other, so it’ll be fun to see these two in action on the main stage of college hoops.
2. South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks return the top recruiting class of 2019 with Zia Cooke, Aliyah Boston, Brea Beal and Laeticia Amihere. This young class was able to make an immediate impact for the Gamecocks and ultimately, led them to a putback away from playing in national championship game.
Head coach Dawn Staley, the legend herself, is hard to bet against with a 58-6 record in the last two seasons. After 12 seasons at the helm, Staley will continue to boost her advantage over opponents by bringing in top point guard Raven Johnson, guard Saniya Rivers and forward Sania Feagin. Senior guard LeLe Grissett who suffered an injury and missed out on the NCAA tournament recently announced she would be returning for the 2021-2022 season, thanks to the additional eligibility offered by the NCAA due to the pandemic.
3. Maryland Terrapins
AP Coach of the Year Brenda Frese will keep her core players, and more importantly top scorers, going into the 2021-2022 season. Last season, her squad averaged 90.8 points per game. Despite their upset loss to Texas in the Sweet 16, their upside is bright. Coach Frese will have both graduate transfers Chloe Bibby and Katie Benzan, as they both stretch the floor with 3-point scoring capabilities and versatility. Their dynamic offense is expected to continue thanks to the triple threat that point guard Ashley Owusu, scoring guard Diamond Miller and forward Angel Reese present for Big Ten opponents.
4. Stanford Cardinals
After waiting 29 years to win another title, Vanderveer and her champs will most certainly be hunger for another. They will need to replace Anna Wilson and Kiana Williams as the top three teams have very skilled and now, veteran guards that will lead their programs through their next post-season.
However, forwards Francesca Belibi and Cameron Brink are only going to get better and now they have the experience winning a national championship title, which should give the 6’1” and 6’4” duo great confidence.
5. Louisville Cardinals
Head coach Jeff Walz has big shoes to fill after losing one of the school’s greatest players to the WNBA draft. Dana Evans was selected No. 13 overall to the Dallas Wings, but Coach Walz was already preparing for her exit with the addition of two talented guards.
Emily Engstler, former Syracuse forward will join her ACC rival after a significant body transformation and earning ACC Co-Sixth Player of Year honor. Chelsie Hall, who spent the last four seasons at Vanderbilt, has improved her game each year and reached 1,000 career points on January 10.
6. NC State Wolfpack
NC State had a promising season leading up the NCAA tournament with a 20-2 record and winning back-to-back ACC tournament titles. The Wolfpack is known for their stellar defense and pushing the ball in transition. They will return all three leading scorers Elissa Cunane, Jakia Brown-Turner and Jada Boyd. Cunane will enter her senior season as a top prospect for the 2022 WNBA Draft.
With a deep roster, the Wolfpack will also welcome top 100 recruits, Aziaha James and Sophia Hart.
7. Texas A&M Aggies
Late in the season, point guard Jordan Nixon rose to the occasion hitting a buzzer-beater in overtime to take her team to the Sweet 16. The Aggies are a high scoring team averaging 75 points per game. In the SEC, the Aggies will struggle in the paint after losing N’dea Jones and Ciera Johnson. Two scoring guards will return, but we all know the post players in the SEC run the conference.
8. Baylor Bears
DiDi Richardson, DiJonai Carrington, and Moon Ursin are unfortunately irreplaceable. Now, with the departure of head coach Kim Mulkey, it will be interesting how their style of play will change.
Last season, their style of play was very much dependent on how extremely athletic their players were. The strength in the guard position carried them throughout this past season. Coach Mulkey was aware of that, which is why she secured guard Chrislyn Carr, a transfer from Texas Tech and five-star post player Maryam Dauda. Dauda would join one of the toughest frontcourt duos in Bears’ leading scorer NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, if they all decide to stay.
Additionally, on Wednesday, Alabama guard Jordan Lewis announced that she will be a part of the Lady Bears next season. However, with the recent news of Mulkey's heading to LSU, Lewis has since deleted her announcement, leaving many to wonder if she will head to LSU, too.
9. Indiana Hoosiers
The Hoosiers are coming off the most successful season in program history after making it to the Elite Eight for the first time ever and the Big Ten Championship game. They also set a program record for Big Ten wins in a season with 16. Given the historical season, they must be even happier now that senior Ali Patberg confirmed her return to for one more season. They will return all four scorers in Patsberg, Grace Berger, Aleksa Gulbe and Mackenzie Holmes.
10. Iowa Hawkeyes
Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Caitlin Clark made a name for herself last season. As a freshman, Clark shot 47% from the field and 40% from behind the arc and she’s not the only player on the team that is extremely efficient. She is joined by forward Monika Czinano, who averaged 67% from the field and led the nation in field goal percentage this past season. Where the Hawkeyes lack is on the defensive end. They let their opponents score about 80 points per game last year. If they can defend more consistently, the Hawkeyes may make it to the Elite Eight in 2022.