Golden Age of basketball has arrived

Standing 6'4", Candace Parker is Superwoman. Parker, among the best players in women’s college basketball, is helping give her sport some long-overdue attention. Women’s college basketball is showcasing some of the most talented female athletes ever to play the game. Call it the Golden Age of the sport.

Three perennial powerhouses currently sit atop the rankings, and each team has its sights set on a national championship. The Connecticut Huskies are currently undefeated at number one, boasting a star-studded roster in which the last player off the bench could start for over 90 percent of Division I teams. At least half of the Huskies received the statewide title of Miss Basketball in high school; it’s practically a Miss America pageant at UConn, with Miss Georgia, Miss New York, Miss West Virginia, Miss Ohio, and Miss South Carolina, to name a few. First-year sensation Maya Moore was named the 2007 Gatorade National Player of the Year, while sophomore teammate Tina Charles won the 2006 McDonald’s Player of the Year.

Connecticut has more depth than the Pacific Ocean, which proves huge since two starters have sustained injuries already this season. Forward Kalana Greene and guard Mel Thomas both tore the ACL in their right knees, and both are expected to miss the rest of the season. Here’s a statistic for you: In their first 20 games, the team has outscored their opponents by an average of 35.6 points.

You can’t talk about Connecticut women’s basketball without talking about the program at the University of Tennessee. Defending national champs, the Volunteers are ranked number two, with their only blemish being an overtime loss against Stanford, ranked at number seven.

Tennessee player Parker, I’m pretty confident, is the human form of the Greek goddess Athena. Scratch that, it makes more sense to say that Athena is Candace Parker in Greek goddess form. But Parker is no one-woman show — all five Tennessee starters are close to averaging double figures. First-year Angie Bjorklund makes more shots than a bartender, and point guard Shannon Bobbitt weaves through traffic like Charlize Theron in The Italian Job.

The roster aside, I tip my cap to the Tennessee faithful who are the best fans in women’s college basketball. Tennessee played the University of Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament here last March, and there was more orange in the stands than any other color. Remarkably devoted, it seems the Tennessee fans would lie down on railroad tracks if head coach Pat Summitt were on a train to retirement.

Currently number three in the country, North Carolina continues to be a top-notch program and will give Tennessee and UConn a run for their money come March. The Tar Heels lost to UConn two weeks ago and lost in the Final Four to Tennessee last March — but aside from these games, the Tar Heels don’t lose. The team’s only other loss this season was against (surprise, surprise) Tennessee in December. Post player Erlana Larkins is playing with a cast on her left hand due to a broken bone, but that hasn’t stopped her from helping out her team. Rashanda McCants leads the team in scoring and LaToya Pringle is an impressive high-percentage shooter — once she pops she can’t stop.

Channel surfers may want to give these ladies a chance while curling up before the tube; the games are exciting and they’re gaining more airtime. I’d watch Tennessee play UConn over most other sporting events in a heartbeat.