The more things change across women's college basketball, the more they stay the same for Connecticut and Notre Dame.
The two monoliths of the 2013-14 campaign stayed at the top of their games in Week 17, continuing their unbeaten stretches and looking better than ever going toward the conference tournament. Connecticut remains No. 1 in the latest Associated Press rankings, continuing its wire-to-wire run through the regular season. While Notre Dame hasn't made much headway in overtaking the Huskies, it's the Irish who are the first to finish their regular season without a loss.
Louisville, Stanford and South Carolina round out this week's Top Five. Here is a look at how the rest of the field shook out:
|Week 18 Associated Press Top 25|
|Rank||Team (First-Place Votes)||Record||Votes|
|14||North Carolina State||24-6||409|
Geno Auriemma's squad is just one win away from clinching its first undefeated campaign since 2009-10. That one game just happens to be a big one. On Monday, the Huskies visit the KFC Yum! Center to take on No. 3 Louisville. The Cardinals lost their first matchup 81-64, but were one of just two teams within the American to come within 20 points.
While Louisville can clinch a tie in the conference with a victory, Auriemma didn't seem too keen on sharing after Saturday's victory over Rutgers.
"They want a share of the title and they're going to have to beat us to get it," Auriemma said. "We don't share very well here at Connecticut. We're not into having parades if you tie for a league championship."
Notre Dame, meanwhile, clinched the first undefeated regular season for an ACC squad since 2006-07. The Irish pulled it off in style as well, running through three straight victories against ranked opponents to close it out.
If Connecticut and Notre Dame's dominance makes the women's college basketball scene seem predictable, what's gone on behind them has only had the opposite effect. Almost half of last week's Top 10 suffered at least one defeat, causing some of the biggest changes atop the rankings this season.
Those alterations begin with No. 5 South Carolina, which dropped its final regular-season game on Sunday to Tennessee. The Gamecocks were dominated inside by center Isabelle Harrison, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds in the 73-61 victory for the Vols. Overall, Tennessee dominated the rebound battle with 48 and held the lead throughout, as South Carolina shot just 38.5 percent from the field.
"It's huge for us," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick told reporters. "We talked a lot about seeding for the SEC tournament, talked a lot about seeding for the NCAA tournament. We thought it was really important for us to go out and make a statement. Obviously, I thought we did."
The Gamecocks and Vols may wind up meeting one more time before the Big Dance. They are the top two teams in the SEC standings and are widely considered favorites to advance to the title game. With Sunday's victory representing the only matchup between the powers, South Carolina may want to see Tennessee in order to prove itself nationally.
A similar situation played itself out in Waco over the weekend, where Baylor fell, 71-69, in a battle of Big 12 elite to West Virginia. The Bears lost despite a 39-point performance from Odyssey Sims, dropping their first home conference game since 2010.
Because the two sides split their regular-season matchups, both will have the opportunity to clinch a share of the conference title this week. West Virginia plays a scuffling Kansas squad, while Baylor visits Iowa State.
Winning the conference title was always out of the question for Duke, with Notre Dame running away in its first season in the SEC. That said, following Sunday's 64-60 loss to rival North Carolina, the Blue Devils have to go back to the drawing board. They closed their regular season with two losses in their last three games and four defeats in the last month.
For a team that was ranked as high as third earlier this season, there's a ton of concern in Durham. Coach Joanne P. McCallie told reporters after Sunday's loss that her team needs to work on being more consistent before the tournament:
We have to have consistency of our effort, fight, rebounding. There's some basics that have to happen. I think in that time that we were not as successful and they were, we weren't covering the basics. Stops, rebounds, fundamentals. Fundamentals are very important in March, for every team.
Last week was a gift and a curse for No. 11 Penn State. The Nittany Lions' loss to Nebraska last Monday seemingly put them in a bad spot within the Big Ten, but a strong win against Michigan over the weekend allowed them to clinch a share of the conference title. While Penn State's men's squad is typically near the bottom of the Big Ten, its women have now won at least a share of the regular-season championship the last three years.
"It's like Christmas morning for parents when kids open gifts and the wonderment they have and excitement they have," coach Coquese Washington told reporters. "It warms my heart to see the players enjoy the experience because they work hard for these championships."
Overall, Penn State's up-and-down week was indicative of most of the Top 25. Besides Connecticut and Notre Dame, it feels like every high-profile matchup is a bit of a crapshoot—with any team in danger of falling or pulling off an upset at any time. That should mean good things for the Big Dance, and even if it seems preordained that UConn and Notre Dame meet, there's no guarantee they'll be on opposite sides of the bracket.
No. 6 Tennessee and No. 7 West Virginia lead the biggest jumps of the week, each rising four spots after their big wins. On the other side of the coin, Baylor, Penn State, Duke and Oklahoma State each moved back three spots—most among teams still in the Top 25.
Only one team, Arizona State, dropped out from last week's rankings. The Sun Devils were replaced by No. 25 DePaul.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: