- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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Editor's note: As the NCAA celebrates its 25th season of women's basketball, ESPN and ESPN.com count down the top 25 moments of NCAA Tournament history. Here, we continue the countdown with memorable NCAA moment No. 2, Sheryl Swoopes leading Texas Tech to the 1993 NCAA title.
The 1993 NCAA Tournament was just around the corner when, in the Southwest Conference, an unstoppable force was gaining steam, credibility and awareness. Yes, Texas Tech -- not conference power Texas -- had a superstar in the making in senior Sheryl Swoopes.
I was covering the conference's regular-season race and tournament games and kept thinking, "Wow, Swoopes is really good, but she has to come down to Earth at some point." I watched in awe as she broke Larry Bird's single-game Reunion Arena record with 53 points as the Lady Raiders beat the Longhorns in the Southwest tournament final.
Then, in the NCAA Tournament, Swoopes dropped 30 points on Texas Tech's first foe, Washington. Then came Southern Cal, which couldn't keep up with Swoopes' 33 points. Defensive power Colorado didn't stand a chance, either, as Swoopes poured in 36 points to reach its first Final Four.
I had seen great players carry a team, but this and the way Swoopes did it was different, special. In the half-court, she would grab a rebound and just flat take the ball down the floor, take a 3-pointer with defenders hanging on her, or go left with the fastest first step I had seen in years and beat a defender to the rim.
The nation's second leading scorer, averaging 28.1 points per game, took Atlanta by storm. At the 1993 Final Four, women's college basketball was about to change forever. It was the first time the event sold out in advance. I was going to the arena and just smiled when I saw scalpers trying to sell precious tickets for the games.
Swoopes' pre-Final Four performances caught America's attention thanks in part to the added TV coverage. Not only could she score, but you could see her play because of the exposure the game received.
It is one thing to deliver the goods, but it's another to keep it up game after game when each team is gearing its defense to stop you. But that's what Swoopes was able to do, playing even better than in Atlanta than she had in the early rounds. She exceeded expectations quickly in the semifinals against Vanderbilt, scoring 31 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to carry Tech to the title game.
The sellout crowd was wowed by Swoopes' electrifying play and got behind the underdog Lady Raiders. In the championship game the next day, Texas Tech faced Ohio State and Katie Smith for the crown. Everyone in the media was scrambling to get more information on the Lady Raiders. Who are they? How had they become so good so quickly? Who were Sheryl Swoopes and Krista Kirkland?
CBS knew it had something special on that Sunday, April 4, 1993. It had a star to showcase and the stage was set for one of sports' extraordinary moments of greatness. In an amazing battle between the Buckeyes and Lady Raiders, the quicker Texas Tech came away with a two-point win, 84-82.
In the end, a very tight, evenly played game was in Swoopes' hands. And she played the game on another planet. Swoopes scored a women's Final Four-record 47 points in one of the magical moments in NCAA history. That game gave the women's game tremendous momentum, awareness and credibility that it still enjoys today. Swoopes seized the moment, and for all of us watching, it will be indelibly etched in our minds.
Click here to see when the next memorable moment will air in our countdown.
In 1993, Sheryl Swoopes put on a show like never before in leading Texas Tech to the NCAA title.