There is still plenty of work left to be done, but Connecticut's regular season has ended right where it began—sitting atop the women's Associated Press Top 25.
The Huskies closed up shop on their undefeated regular season last week and have the opportunity to all but clinch the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament with a victory over Louisville on Monday. They received all 36 first-place votes for the 18th time in 19 tries, continuing the dream of being Geno Auriemma's latest wire-to-wire No. 1.
Notre Dame, which finished its first undefeated run through the regular season and conference tournament over the weekend, stays at No. 2. The Cardinals, even despite their latest loss to Connecticut, avoid a drop to stay No. 3. Tennessee moves up to the fourth spot after taking the SEC tournament, while West Virginia rounds out the top of the standings.
Here is a look at how the rest of the final regular-season AP poll turned out:
|Rank||Team (First-Place Votes)||Record||Votes||Rank|
|16||North Carolina State||25-7||374||14|
For Connecticut and Louisville, one could almost rinse, wash and repeat everything we said about these two teams last week. Last Monday, the Huskies were on the precipice of closing out an undefeated regular season and the Cardinals were the only team standing in their way. This Monday, Louisville will try to take down the monolith of women's college hoops to capture the first ever AAC tournament.
Jeff Walz will have to hope a week has changed an awful lot. Connecticut thrashed Louisville, 68-48, in the teams' regular-season finale, never trailing in the second half as Breanna Stewart led the way with 22 points. The Huskies have defeated the Cardinals 14 straight times, including by a total of 70 points in their last three meetings.
Connecticut has won 39 straight overall, including 11 against ranked opponents this season.
"It's something to be proud of," Auriemma told reporters last week. "We don't talk about it very often. We don't stand on a podium and shout `We're great.' But we've done some really great things this past year and sometimes we need to step back and take a look at it."
No. 5 West Virginia and No. 7 Baylor are the only other Top 10 teams with a game remaining, theirs of course coming against one another in the Big 12 championship. The two sides split their regular-season matchups, with the Bears taking the overall point differential advantage by 14.
The Mountaineers certainly can't be counted out, but they'll have to do a better job at stopping Odyssey Sims. The star guard has been slowed down a bit lately as teams design game plans specifically around holding her point total down, but she averaged 43.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists during the two regular-season games against West Virginia.
West Virginia will also have to deal with freshman Nina Davis, who has stepped up of late in lieu of Sims' struggles. Davis scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Bears' 65-61 win over Oklahoma State on Sunday and seems to be getting more comfortable in her skin by the minute.
"When I first subbed out, coach came up to me and told me to keep shooting the ball, shooting the ball with confidence," Davis told reporters. "I just took her words to heart and I just kept shooting until it fell in, and once it went in, they were big shots, so I was satisfied."
With only two games between Top 25 opponents this week, Monday night's showcase should help put the rest of the season in perspective. An overwhelming majority of ranked teams are done and merely awaiting Selection Monday to see where they wind up.
Tennessee earned its first SEC tournament championship of the post-Pat Summitt era and could be in line for a No. 1 seed after its 71-70 defeat of Kentucky over the weekend. The Lady Volunteers remain in a bit of a transition phase under Holly Warlick, and it showed at certain points of the season. They dropped non-conference games against Stanford and Notre Dame and started a shaky 9-3 in the SEC before reeling off seven straight wins to close out the campaign.
It's understandably been a rocky ride for Warlick. Summitt is the most decorated women's coach in history and a living legend whose battle with early onset dementia prematurely ended her career. Warlick has seen the pressure first-hand, with many near the program upset at Tennessee's up-and-down start. But as Mechelle Voepel of ESPN pointed out, those who had patience had their faith rewarded:
In regard to SEC champ: Guess folks wanting Holly Warlick fired after reg-season loss to Kentucky are OK w/ her keeping job a bit longer. :)— Mechelle Voepel (@MechelleV) March 10, 2014
As ironic fate would have it, Tennessee may be the only team outside Storrs rooting for Connecticut on Monday. Should Louisville take the AAC crown, it would be difficult for the committee to not give the Cardinals a top seed. Two of their three losses thus far have come against the Huskies, and the other against a Kentucky squad that also beat Tennessee during the regular season.
Which team is most deserving of a No. 1 seed?
The Volunteers' resume will look better side-by-side, as Louisville will have quote-unquote stumbled down the stretch. West Virginia, with only three losses, can also stake a claim for a top seed with a win over Baylor. Connecticut and Notre Dame are stone-cold locks for the top two overall spots, and Stanford still looms even after its Pac-12 tournament loss to USC.
Regardless, expect a lot of scoreboard watching littered across the nation on Monday night—even with just two games of high importance.
No. 19 Iowa moved up four spots from last week, leading an otherwise static series of moves. No. 13 Nebraska and No. 18 Gonzaga crept up three places. On the flip side, California's drop to No. 24 from No. 20 helped facilitate some of these moves, as did the four other schools that went down three spots.
Rutgers was the lone ousted squad and was replaced by No. 25 Bowling Green.
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