From Clark to Bueckers to Reese: How one recruiting class transformed women's basketball

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Heading into the season, many held the belief that this could be a special season for women’s college basketball with the star power of Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese, as well as the return of UConn’s Paige Bueckers.

Fast-forward to the Final Four, and there is little doubt this is as good as women’s college basketball has ever been, and that is in large part due to the unbelievable performances of the 2020 women’s recruiting class.

The 2020 recruiting class has not been talked about as a sport-altering group, but their play has put the growth of the sport into overdrive. The top of the class that year had, in some order, Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers, Cameron Brink, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso, among the top grouping of players. All six players led their schools to seasons with 20 or more wins and top-three seeds, and for Bueckers, Clark and Cardoso, there remains an opportunity to add a NCAA Tournament title to their list of accolades.

If there was any uncertainty remaining about the Class of 2020’s star power, the game’s ratings answered that question. The rematch of last year’s title game between Iowa and LSU drew a whopping 12.3 million viewers and peaked at 16 million. Last year, the title game peaked at 12.6 million and drew an average of 9.9 million. It was by far the most-watched game in women’s college basketball history. In fact, according to The Athletic, before last year’s 9.9 million average viewers, the most-watched women’s college basketball final was in 2002, when UConn — led by the legendary duo Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi — averaged 5.68 million viewers. The Iowa-LSU rematch, which was not even a Final Four game, averaged 12.3 million, over two times the record before last year’s title game, per The Athletic.

The UConn-USC Elite Eight match also delivered averaging 6.7 million viewers, which again would have been more than the record for a women’s college game before last year’s title game. What do all these things have in common? These games that set records and shattered previous marks had star power with the likes of Reese, Clark and Bueckers, all 2020 recruits, leading those teams.

That 2020 class has delivered on the highest stage this year, but as Reese becomes the latest star to declare for the WNBA Draft, just how good have they been over their college careers? 

The answer is staggeringly good and one that other classes, in both men’s and women’s college basketball, will be measured against for a long time.

Iowa-LSU Elite Eight matchup draws record-breaking 12.3M viewers for women’s CBB | Undisputed

Paige Bueckers, UConn, G

Bueckers has picked up right where she left off after missing parts of the 2021-22 and all the 2022–23 seasons with injuries. Earlier this season, she tied Huskies’ legend Maya Moore as the fastest to 1,000 career points, doing so in just 55 games. This season alone, she has 837 points, the most by a UConn junior in a single season, and just 31 points behind Moore for the most by any UConn woman’s player for the most in a season.

After collecting the 2021 National Player of the Year, Bueckers found her groove again. Since February 16th, she has posted 27 points per game to go with nearly seven rebounds and four assists per game, all while leading UConn to an 11-0 record in those games.

Expected WNBA Draft Projection Range: Returning to UConn in 2025, but potential No. 1 pick in 2025 WNBA Draft.

[Women’s basketball took center stage on Monday, and its stars delivered in a big way]

Angel Reese, LSU, F

Reese led the Tigers to a national title last season, their first in program history. Reese has dominated her competition, posting seven games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds, the second-most in D1 since the 2009-10 season, and five more than all of the men’s LSU players have combined over that same span (2). She also led the SEC in scoring (18.8 PPG) and rebounding (14.3 RPG) for the second consecutive season, making her just the second player in SEC history to lead the league in both in consecutive seasons.

Most impressively, she also holds the NCAA record for most double-doubles in a season with 34.

Expected WNBA Draft Projection Range: Sure-fire top-10 pick and could land in the top-five

[Ticket prices for Women’s Final Four skyrocket following riveting Elite Eight]

Cameron Brink, Stanford, F

After delivering the Cardinal a national title in 2021, Brink has continued to dominate college basketball, becoming just the third player in at least the last 25 years to compile 1,800 points, 1,200 rebounds and 400 blocks, joining Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris and Baylor legend Brittney Griner. Brink has also now won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in each of the last three years, making her just the second player to win the award in three consecutive seasons.

Brink is just the third player to sweep the league’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards. 

Expected WNBA Draft Projection Range: Likely No. 2 pick

Caitlin Clark, Iowa, PG

Where to start with Clark? She owns the record for most points in NCAA men’s and women’s history, she is the only player in NCAA history to lead her conference in scoring and assists in four straight seasons, became just the sixth player ever to amass 1,000 career assists, has the most 30-point games in men’s or women’s history and became just the second player ever to have 350 points and 100 assists in their career in NCAA Tournament play. There are dozens of other records and the numbers will be astronomical to look back on when her career finishes.

Expected WNBA Draft Projection Range: No. 1 pick

[Another Caitlin Clark milestone: She’s moved atop the D1 women’s career points per game list]

Kamilla Cardoso, South Carolina, C

Cardoso does not have the accolades of others on the list but has been a force, helping to lead South Carolina to a perfect 36-0 record this season. Cardoso led the SEC in offensive efficiency while also posting 14 games this season where she compiled at least three blocks and shot over 50 percent from the field in a monstrous 23 games to pace one of the best offenses in the country. 

Moreover, she is in the 99th percentile in field goal percentage, offensive rebounds, total rebounds and blocks per 40 minutes, having done so for each of the last three categories in all three years at South Carolina.

Expected WNBA Draft Projection Range: Likely top-five pick

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