As March Madness grips the national sports psyche, let us not forget these Black Queens who unapologetically who ruled the Tourney.
Sheryl Swoopes’s 47-points in the 1993 NCAA title game is arguably the most outstanding championship performance of all time. In leading the Texas Tech Raiders to the ’93 title with an 84-82 win over Ohio State, Swoopes played all 40 minutes, hitting 16-for-24 from the field (all but eight of Tech’s 24 field goals), 4-for-6 from beyond the arc and 11-for-11 at the foul line, with three assists, two blocks and a steal. But by the time the final whistle blew, Sheryl had set Tournament, Final Four, and championship game records for points (177), field goals made in a Final Four game (16), and free-throw percentage (81.2%), and was named Most Outstanding Player of the 1993 Tournament. In two seasons at Texas Tech, Swoopes tallied three triple-doubles, 22 double-doubles, scored in double figures in 64 of 66 career games, including 38 consecutive games. The 1993 consensus national player of the year, Swoopes also scored a single-season TTU record 955 points, on her way to 1,645 career points and a 24.9 career scoring average.
Cynthia Cooper won championships and accolades in high school, college, the Olympics, and the WNBA. Cooper led the University of Southern California to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, three Final Fours, and back-to-back NCAA Tournament Championships in 1983 and 1984. While Cooper was at USC, the Women of Troy compiled an astounding 114–15 record. Ms. Cooper added to a stellar collegiate career winning gold in 1987, 1988 and 1992 for USA Women’s Pan American Team and consecutive Olympic medals, gold in 1988 and bronze in 1992. Ms. Cooper continued a championship run with the Houston Comets and was named one of the WNBA’s Top 15 players of all time with accolades including four-time WNBA champion, four-time Finals MVP, two-time WNBA MVP, three-time WNBA All-Star, and four-time WNBA First Team, and three-time WNBA scoring champion. Cynthia Cooper-Dyke was Inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 and in 2010 was the first WNBA player inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
As noted in her Naismith Hall of Fame bio, “Miller did for women’s basketball what Julius Erving did for men’s basketball: She took the game off the court and put it into the air.” Ms. Miller, who brought an athleticism to the sport that hadn’t been seen, led USC to then-unprecedented back-to-back NCAA titles in 1983-84. But Miller’s career might have made the biggest impact in 1986, when Sports Illustrated named her “the best male or female player in college basketball.” Miller, a four-time All-American and three-time Naismith winner who netted 3,018 points for a 23.6 career scoring average, averaged 20.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.2 steals and 2.3 blocks in 16 NCAA Tournament games. The two-time Final Four Most Outstanding Player is the NCAA Tournament career leader in field-goal percentage (79.4, 121-for-245) and most free throws made (91), ranks second in free throws attempted (121) and rebounds (170), and holds records in nine USC categories.
Chamique Holdsclaw is often referenced as the greatest player ever who took basketball to new heights. Holdsclaw led Tennessee to a then-unprecedented three NCAA titles her first three seasons, landing in the Vol’s record book as the all-time leading scorer and rebounder (1,295 boards) for both men and women. Just the fifth women’s basketball player in NCAA history top 3,000s, Ms. Holdsclaw’s 3,025 career points also set a new standard for the SEC. The Naismith Player of the Century commandeered Tennessee to a 131-17 record during her four seasons, leading the Lady Vols in both scoring and rebounding every year. Holdsclaw, who scored at least 30 points in 12 games, averaged 20.4 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field over her career. The two-time Final Four Most Outstanding Player, however, was even better in the NCAA Tournament, where she upped her numbers to 21.8 ppg and 9.0 rpg. Holdsclaw holds tournament career records in points (479), field goals made (195) and attempted (399), rebounds (198) and free throws attempted (122).
Lisa Leslie is a dominant figure in basketball. During her time as a center for the USC Trojans from 1990 to 1994, she earned honors like other teams earned wins; three-time all-American, four Player of the Year awards, four-time All Pac-10, national Rookie of the Year. USC had an impressive 89–31 record during Leslie’s four seasons and won one Pac10 conference championship, while appearing in four NCAA tournaments. Lisa Leslie also set Pac-10 records for scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots accumulating 2,414 points, 1,214 rebounds, and 321 blocked shots, holding the USC single season record for blocked shots (95). Ms. Leslie became the face of the WNBA during her time with the Los Angeles Sparks, winning two titles in 11 seasons from 1997-2009, and is the first to dunk in a WNBA game. She was also a three-time WNBA MVP, but perhaps more impressively she was a four-time Olympic gold medal winner, helping the US win Summer Olympics gold from 1996 to 2008. In 2015, Ms. Leslie was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.