Monday, April 6, 2009 Updated: April 7, 11:06 PM ET
Which unbeaten team is the best ever?
When Connecticut went perfect with a 39-0 record in 2001-02, we asked the experts if it was the best team in women's college basketball history.
Seven years have passed, and the answer remains the same: yes.
So where does UConn's 2008-09 championship team, which beat Louisville on Tuesday night in the NCAA title game to cap a perfect 39-0 season for the program's sixth national championship and third unbeaten squad, rank among the best? How does this version of perfection rank against the four previous undefeated Division I teams -- Texas 1985-86, UConn 1994-95, Tennessee 1997-98, UConn 2001-02 -- in women's college basketball history?
Here's what ESPN.com's columnists, ESPN's analysts and even a former Husky had to say.
How does UConn 2008-09 rate against the other perfect women's teams?
Which team was the best?
I would rank this UConn team fourth among undefeated teams. I say that weighing all sorts of things: talent level, star power, overall impact made, dominance against the field of the best teams in their perfect season. First would be UConn 2001-02, followed by Tennessee 1997-98, Texas 1985-86, UConn 2008-09 and UConn 1994-95. You could make a reasonable argument for these Huskies to be higher, and even lower. While this team appears stronger than the 1994-95 team in enough respects for me to put it fourth, the impact of the 1994-95 squad was greater just by virtue of being the team that truly launched Husky mania. Some might argue with Texas being third, but it was the first team to go unbeaten in the NCAA era and it really was a squad loaded with talent. The Longhorns had just as much of an air of invincibility around them as the other four perfect teams, but they're obviously the least known because of the comparatively very limited television exposure in 1986.
The 2001-02 Connecticut team is far and away the better team. But to compare it is an injustice to this season's Huskies team, which should be honored for (1) its commitment to each other; (2) the fundamental trust the players have in each other; (3) the Huskies' ability to make plays whenever they were challenged; and (4) Renee Montgomery's extraordinary leadership skills.
Being that UConn went 39-0 this season without having one game closer than a 10-point margin, this season's Huskies are definitely in the discussion as the best ever. But I would put this season's team a shade behind the 2001-02 UConn club. That team had so many weapons; future WNBA players came off the bench. I do think Renee Montgomery rates as good as [2001-02 point guard] Sue Bird or [1994-95 point guard] Jennifer Rizzotti; she has been just as spectacular. And I think Maya Moore will have a career that will compare to Diana Taurasi's.
I asked Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma this question and he said it's not even close -- that the 2001-02 team is the best. I trust his opinion; he's the one who knows better than anybody. Just look at the backcourt: Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi or Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes? The reason he picks 2001-02 is because that team had more experience. It had four seniors and a sophomore who just happened to be the best player in the country at the time. But it'd be a good game [if UConn 2001-02 and UConn 2008-09 played]. And I still think our 1994-95 team had the best-looking coach. He was a lot younger then.
The evolution of the game makes it difficult to make a case for Texas, Tennessee or the first Connecticut perfect entry -- Vince Lombardi's Packers might have been great, but I wouldn't like their chances against Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. So if we're talking about the best basketball team, it's down to the 2001-02 and 2008-09 Connecticut teams. All that's worth saying with any certainty is a game between the two would be far more compelling than anything either faced during the march to perfection. Pitting Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi against Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore would be a stalemate, but the depth the 2001-02 team had inside, with Jessica Moore coming off the bench behind Tamika Williams, Asjha Jones and Swin Cash, might give it the edge in a seven-game series.
Obviously I'm a little biased. But the 2001-02 team I played with included some of the best women ever to play the game. We had great success. Our dominance was all about our chemistry. We had four of the top six picks in the WNBA draft and five starters who each scored over 1,000 points. If you took that starting five and put them on different teams in women's college basketball [that season], we all would have been All-Americans. If you took that 2001-02 team and put it up against some of [today's] WNBA teams, I feel we'd be very successful.