The best NBA and WNBA performances from March Madness history ESPN logo
Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Legends are made in the NCAA tournament. Not every player who stands out during the Big Dance ends up performing well at the next level, but it's certainly not a bad indicator by any means. Years from now, we might look back at some of the top performers in the latest men's and women's tournaments and say that this was the moment they truly became stars.

Many players who went to NBA and WNBA careers had incredible performances in the tournament. Here are a few of the best:

Ja Morant

Morant led the 12-seed Murray State Racers to a first-round upset of the 5-seed Marquette Golden Eagles in the 2019 NCAA tournament. To top it off, he recorded a triple-double (17 points, 11 rebounds, 16 assists). Murray State fell to Florida State in the second round, but Morant didn't go quietly, dropping 28 points in the loss.

A'ja Wilson

In her junior season in 2017, Wilson led the South Carolina Gamecocks to their first tournament championship while winning Most Outstanding Player. She dropped a double-double in the title game against Mississippi State, scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Brook Lopez

The third-seeded Stanford Cardinal had a tough second-round matchup against six-seeded Marquettein the 2008 tournament. Lopez, playing alongside his twin brother, Robin, stepped up when it counted, hitting a game-winning buzzer-beater in his team's 82-81 victory.

Breanna Stewart

Four seasons. Four NCAA tournament titles. Four Most Outstanding Player awards. What else needs to be said about Stewie's career with the UConn Huskies? Her 2015-16 tournament was particularly dominant, as she averaged 20.3 points, 11 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals.

Stephen Curry

The Davidson Wildcats were underdogs in each of their 2008 tournament games, but only because the world hadn't been properly introduced to Curry yet. In the 2008 tournament, Curry led 11-seed Davidson to the Elite Eight, defeating the 7-seedGonzaga Bulldogs(40 points), the 2-seedGeorgetown Hoyas(30 points, including 25 in the second half) and the 3-seedWisconsin Badgers(33 points) along the way. Davidson lost to the 1-seed and eventual championKansas Jayhawksin the Elite Eight, but not for lack of trying -- Curry had 25 points and the game ended as a 59-57 nail-biter.

Kelsey Plum

The seventh-seeded Washington Huskies went on an improbable run in the 2016 tournament, making it all the way to the Final Four -- and Plum was a huge part of that. She averaged 24.4 points and 6.2 assists, including a 32-point outburst against the Maryland Terrapins in the second round.

Anthony Davis

The 2012 tournament's Most Outstanding Player, Davis led the Kentucky Wildcats to their eighth NCAA title. He put up an 18-point, 14-rebound, 5-block performance against theLouisville Cardinalsin the Final Four, and though he scored only six points in the national championship against Kansas, he was a force on defense, recording 16 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 steals.

Diana Taurasi

Taurasi was one of the main reasons UConnbecame such a dominant force in women's college basketball. She helped lead the Huskies to three NCAA tournament titles and won Most Outstanding Player in the 2003 and 2004 contests. Taurasi was a scoring machine in the 2003 tournament, dropping 26.2 points per game en route to the championship.

Blake Griffin

Griffin had some "man among boys" energy in the 2009 NCAA tournament with the Oklahoma Sooners. Though the 2-seed Sooners didn't win the championship, Griffin rampaged through, averaging 28.5 points and 15 rebounds in four games.

Arike Ogunbowale

The Dallas Wings star might be one of the most clutch tournament players of all time. She hit two game-winning shots in the 2018 contest for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish -- one with a second left in the semifinal against UConn and another with a mere .01 remaining in the final versus Mississippi State.

Draymond Green

There have been only nine triple-doubles in the history of the men's tournament since assists started being tracked in 1984. Green, who played in two Final Fours, has two of them. The Michigan State Spartans standout recorded his first in a loss to theUCLA Bruinsin the 2011 tournament and his second in a win over LIU Brooklyn in 2012.

Brittney Griner

Griner's performance in 2012 led the Baylor Bears to an undefeated season. She won the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award and put up 26 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks to defeat Notre Dame in the final.

Jimmer Fredette

In 2011, Fredette was set to make his mark as the next up-and-coming sharpshooter in the NBA. The 6-foot-2 guard drove the country to "Jimmer Mania" with his deep range and shot-making ability.

Fredette led the No.3-seedBYU Cougarsto the Sweet 16, where they fell to theFlorida Gators84-73 in overtime. His most iconic performance came against theGonzaga Bulldogsin the round of 32, when Fredette scored 34 points.

Zion Williamson

Arguably one of the most hyped-up NBA prospects in recent memory, Williamson led theDuke Blue Devilsto the Elite Eight playing next toCam ReddishandRJ Barrett.

Williamson earned a consensus national player of the year award and was a first-team All-American selection. He was also the only NCAA player to average at least 20 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals in the 2018-19 season, according to Duke Athletics.

Jalen Brunson

Before Brunson took the leap to the NBA, he was a star for theVillanova Wildcatsand helped the team win a national title in 2017-18. Brunson averaged 17.7 points throughout March Madness.