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Women’s Basketball Media Guides, 1979-1986, 1989-1992, 1994-2012, Box 72, University of Minnesota Athletics records (ua00953)

It’s going to be a sweet weekend for the women’s college basketball league, as the top 16 universities and colleges face off in Albany, New York and Portland, Oregon. In tribute to this year’s national championship, let’s take a look at the history of the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team and their time participating in the NCAA Division I competition.

History of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball

Made up of 68 women’s college basketball teams, the NCAA Division I Tournament was preceded by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which ran from 1972 to 1982. It was in the 1981-1982 school year that basketball was added to the NCAA championship program, with the first tournament played in the Spring of 1982. 

After forty years, there was a gender equality review of the Men’s and Women’s NCAA National Championship in 2021. It was then that the women’s tournament expanded to the 68 teams format and the organization finally allowed the women’s tournament to be able to use the “March Madness” branding (1). 

Women’s Basketball Media Guides, 1979-1986, 1989-1992, 1994-2012, Box 72, University of Minnesota Athletics records (ua00953)

Gophers History in the Women’s March Madness 

The first year the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team was in the NCAA Division I tournament was in 1994. The Gophers’ conference standings were 10 wins and 8 losses, holding the 10th seed. Amongst the other Big Ten teams were Pennsylvania State, Indiana, Iowa and Purdue. In the first round, Minnesota faced Notre Dame, beating the Fighting Irish 81 to 76. In the second round, Minnesota faced 2nd seed Vanderbilt, losing 98 to 72. This season’s team set the stage for future UMN athletes to continue in their footsteps (2). 

Women’s Basketball Media Guides, 1979-1986, 1989-1992, 1994-2012, Box 72, University of Minnesota Athletics records (ua00953)

Back-to-back Competition

In the early 2000s, the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team established itself as a leading team across the country. The second year the Gophers attended the NCAA tournament was in 2002. At the time, their conference standing was 11 wins and 5 losses, and they held a 5th seed seat amongst competitors. Entering into the tournament, this season’s team obtained similar results to their predecessors from 1994, making it to the second round, beating out University of Nevada, Las Vegas 71 to 54, but losing to the fourth seed, North Carolina Chapel Hill, 69 to 72 (2). 

The Golden Gophers continued their national tournament streak into 2003, where they made it to the Regional Semifinals held in Stanford, California. In the first round, the University of Minnesota played against Tulane and won 68 to 48. In the second round, they were up against the 3rd seed, Stanford, and won 68 to 56. But it was in the semifinals, where they lost 60 to 73 against Texas, who went on to attend the final four (2). 

The 2004 Women’s March Madness included Minnesota in the at-large qualifying teams. Their conference season included 9 wins and 7 losses with a 7th seed standing. Five other Big Ten teams were competing in the tournament, including Purdue, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State and Pennsylvania State. This season’s tournament brought Minnesota to the National Semifinals in New Orleans, Louisiana. Their first round game was at their home turf against University of California, Los Angeles, where they won 92 to 81. The second round led the Gophers against Kansas State, where they won by 19 points, 80 to 61 bringing them to the Regional semifinals where they went up against Boston College and won 76 to 63. On March 30, 2004, playing against Duke, Minnesota won 82 to 75. It was then against Connecticut for the National Semifinals where they lost 58 to 67. Amongst the players who made tournament records that year included Janel McCarville, for her 75 rebounds, which at the time was the highest ever recorded in an NCAA tournament (2).

Women’s Basketball Post season Media Guides, 2002, 2004, 2006-2007, Box 72, University of Minnesota Athletics records (ua00953)

In 2005, the Gophers were among four other Big Ten schools to make it into the NCAA Division I Championship, including Michigan State, Ohio State, Pennsylvania State, and Purdue. With a conference standing of 12 wins and 4 losses and a 3rd seed ranking, the 2004-2005 season team made it to the Sweet 16. In the first round of games, Minnesota was up against the 14th seed, St. Francis University, from Loretto, Pennsylvania. With a 64 to 33 win, the Gophers went on to play against the University of Virginia in the second round, where they went on to win, 73 to 58. In the Regional Semifinals, against Baylor University, Minnesota lost to the Bears, 64 to 57 (2). 

There were five other tournaments where the Golden Gophers made an appearance. In 2009 and 2018, the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team made it to the second round. And in 2006, 2008, and 2015, Minnesota only made it to the first round of play amongst those competing. 

Gopher Mascot. At Women’s Basketball game, 1990?, University of Minnesota Archives Photograph Collection

Past and Future 

In reviewing this legacy, each season brought highs and lows for the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team, but their history within the tournament calls for inspiration to future team members. 


Enjoy the next week of competition, March Madness viewers!



  1. Expansion of 2022 DI women’s basketball tournament to 68 teams approved by Rick Nixon, November 17, 2021, NCAA
  2. NCAA 2023 Women’s Final Four Championship Records Book
Katelyn Morken

Author Katelyn Morken

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