TAMPA, Fla. No one would dispute that women's college basketball needs identifiable faces familiar players that fans recognize.
It's how the men's game grew in the 1970s when a scruffy-faced Bill Walton led UCLA to back-to-back national titles ('72 and '73), and David Thompson attracted fans with his amazing leaping ability and helped North Carolina State to the 1974 national title.
And then Magic Johnson of Michigan State, and Larry Bird of Indiana State, squared off in the 1979 national championship game.
Each team in this year's star-studded Women's NCAA Final Four has it's own mega-star player. Tennessee's Candace Parker, LSU's Sylvia Fowles, Connecticut's Maya Moore and Stanford's Candice Wiggins.
The predominance of big-name players representing teams from various parts of the country has those who follow the women's game excited that this year's Final Four could draw unusually high interest.
"The big thing that gets people interested in women's basketball is having local interest; when they have their local teams do well, they tend to get more involved," said ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel. "On a national perspective, it's when there is a great player who they understand is a great player."
Parker leads Tennessee (34-2) against Fowles and LSU (31-5) today at 6:30 p.m. at St. Pete Times Forum. In the first game, Moore leads UConn (36-1) against Wiggins and Stanford (34-3) at 4 p.m. The national championship is Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
"Even the hostile fan who doesn't like women's basketball, when he saw Diana Taurasi of UConn (2000-04) play, he had to say, 'OK, she's good,"' Voepel said. "What you'll see, and what's exciting about this Final Four is even that fan will be impressed by Maya Moore and Candace Parker, Candice Wiggins and Sylvia Fowles. They're going to say, 'You know what? Actually, they could kick my butt on the playground.'
"If that gets that fan interested in just watching the Final Four, that's a step forward for women's basketball even if they don't watch anything else during the year."
Parker has the defending national champion Lady Vols in the Final Four for the 18th time and coach Pat Summitt says that having a noted player on each roster could make this the most interesting she has been a part of.
"You look at what Candice Wiggins did for Stanford in the regional semifinals. You look at Maya Moore and what she's meant to Connecticut and just the explosiveness of her game. And obviously the toughness and the ability to stretch the defense and make really a lot of big plays.
"Sylvia Fowles, it seems like she and Candace (Parker) have been going at it for a long, long time. People want to see them go against each other. You have to deal with Fowles' presence her ability to block shots and also get position. You take Candace Parker for Tennessee and you have a player that has expanded her offensive package for us throughout her career."
LSU coach Van Chancellor said he could not recall so many great players ever being showcased in one setting.
"This is the greatest star power we've had in our game," Chancellor said. "If you went out and asked the average fan to name four players, they could name all four. That's great for our game."
Tennessee's Nicky Anosike is happy Parker is on her team, but she also believes the overall game has been helped by the fact that other stars have wound up at other places.
"The players who have led their teams to this Final Four says a lot about where women's basketball is today," Anosike said. "All the star players aren't just going to one school anymore. They're branching out and going to schools like Stanford and other places and it's helping the women's game."
Parker said she embraces her role in promoting the game.
"Fans identify from the TV commercials to the media coverage," Parker said. "That draws them in and then you come and watch the game and you realize there is much more to it than that one player."
Fowles' boldness gained national attention last week in the Oklahoma City Regional when she told a reporter "Yes" when asked if she considered herself the nation's best player.
She backed up her statement by leading LSU to the Final Four for the fourth consecutive year. Now something of an expert on the event, Fowles said the other top players in this year's Final Four make it the most compelling she has been a part of.
"When you go against the best, it brings out the best in you and this tournament has the best players in it," Fowles said. "These girls are ready to come out and show their talent and what they're able to do."