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Published: February 27, 2012
1. Baylor (29-0, 16-0)
With wins over Notre Dame and UConn, the Bears are the undisputed best team in the nation and it?s impossible to see them losing before the Final Four in Denver next month. Baylor is 70-3 since the start of the 2009-10 season and has held 16 of its last 17 opponents under 60 points, winning games by an average of 28.6 points. Junior center Brittney Griner is the favorite for Player of the Year honors. She?s scored in double-figures in 69 straight games and is averaging 22.6 points and 9.7 rebounds.
Next Up: at Texas A&M (Feb. 27), vs. Iowa State (March 3), Big 12 Championship at Kansas City, Mo. (March 7-10)
Quotable: ?I think this team has achieved what they have because we remember what happened last year.? – Baylor coach Kim Mulkey.
2. Notre Dame (27-2, 14-1)
Monday night?s regular-season finale at UConn is a huge game for Notre Dame because it will give coach Muffet McGraw an indication about what she needs to work for a long run in the NCAA tournament. It?s also a chance to dent UConn?s confidence after Notre Dame beat the Huskies in overtime earlier this season and last year in the national semifinals. Senior forward Devereaux Peters has averaged 14 rebounds over her last eight games and if she stays out of foul trouble, Notre Dame should be tough to beat. Junior point guard Skylar Diggins leads the team in scoring at 17.6 points and has a strong assists to turnover ratio (172 assists to 76 turnovers). The Irish have defeated teams by 29.7 points this season.
Next Up: at UConn (Feb. 27), Big East Championship at Hartford (March 2-6)
Quotable: ?This group that has done so much for us the last four years and to see the impact they’ve had on the program. What they’ve done for us has been so fun to watch. It’s going to be really hard next year to go on without them because this is a group that has really been in my heart.? – McGraw
3. UConn (26-3, 13-2)
It?s been an interesting year for coach Geno Auriemma. He knows he has a skilled team (No. 2 in the NCAA Women?s RPI), but it?s young and has yet to prove it can finish games against high-quality opponents. St. John?s ended UConn?s 99-game home winning streak on Feb. 18, the first time UConn had lost to an unranked team at home in 19 years. The sloppy loss (18 turnovers) to St. John?s revealed what Auriemma knows: If sophomore guard Bria Hartley and freshman guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis have a bad shooting night, UConn is going to be in trouble. Without a scoring option in the post, UConn has no shot at winning a title this year. He?ll learn a lot about his team on Monday when they host Notre Dame in the regular-season finale.
Next Up: vs. Notre Dame (Feb. 27), Big East Championship at Hartford (March 2-6)
Quotable: “Sometimes you can get away with it, just on talent. I don’t know that the players we have this year match the talent we’ve had in the past. Maybe in the past you could get away with it, but this team can’t. It’s a matter of playing to your ability every single minute of every day, or you’re going to get beat.” – Auriemma
4. Stanford (26-1, 17-0 Pac-12)
They should be higher based on record but it?s hard to know how good Stanford is given that the Pac 12 simply isn?t a power conference this year. The known quality here comes from senior forward Nneka Ogwumike, who will battle Griner for Player of the Year honors. The senior forward has averaged 21.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and has 14 double-double this season. Her younger sister Chiney, an emerging sophomore forward, has averaged 16.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. The biggest question for coach Tara VanDerveer, who won her 700th career game on Saturday with an easy win over Utah, is whether sophomore guard Toni Kokenis and freshman guard Amber Orrange can handle the pressure that comes with leading a team deep in the tournament.
Next Up: vs. Seattle University (Feb. 29), at California (March 4), Pac 12 Championships at Los Angeles (March 7-10)
Quotable: ?It would have happened sooner if Nneka had a clone. She coached me before the game. She said, `Tara, keep it together.’ I did my best … but you’re lucky if you ever have a player like this in your career.” ?VanDerveer on career win No. 700
5. Duke (24-4, 15-1)
Take a look at the losses this season: Notre Dame (56-54), Kentucky (72-65), UConn (61-45) and Maryland (63-61). Given a couple of baskets here or there, Duke could be sitting as a one-loss team. There?s a lot to like in this squad with a dominant post player in freshman Elizabeth Williams (14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 102 blocks) and All-America caliber player Chelsea Gray (11.6 points and 6.2 assists). But depth is an issue. Duke suffered a tough loss last week when sophomore guard Richa Jackson was lost for the season with a torn ACL in her left knee. The Blue Devils have only eight scholarship players, but on Sunday clinched another ACC regular season title.
Up Next: ACC Championships at Greensboro (March 1-4)
Quotable: ?I think Chelsea is one of the very best point guards in the country, and nothing is going to change that. I think Elizabeth is one of the very best post players in the country and nothing is going to change that either.” ? McCallie, on the case for Gray or Williams as ACC Player of the Year.
6. Miami (25-4, 14-2)
Given its All-America senior backcourt — Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams — Miami will be a very tough out in the NCAA tournament. The Hurricanes lost forward and third-leading scorer Morgan Stroman to a torn left Achilles tendon but junior guard Stefanie Yderstrom has emerged as another scorer. This is a dangerous team with an excellent coach (Katie Meier) and two motivated seniors in the backcourt. Don?t sleep on them. The Hurricanes are 53-9 since the start of last season.
Next Up: ACC Championship at Greensboro (March 1-4)
Quotable: “We have to create turnovers and push the tempo. Seventy-five feet of the court has to be ours, because from 15 feet in — we’re a lot smaller than everybody else. So we want to try to speed the game up. That’s what we do. That’s Miami basketball.” ? Shenise Johnson
7. Maryland (25-4, 12-4)
Maryland is strong on the boards (it outrebounded opponents this season by 14.2 boards per game) and can score. Sophomore forward Alyssa Thomas leads the team with 17.0 points (she also pulls down 8.2 rebounds] and sophomore guard Laurin Mincy (13.4) and junior forward Tianna Hawkins (12.7) are also scoring threats. The Terps split with Miami and Duke this season, and have won seven of its last eight games.
Next Up: ACC Championship at Greensboro (March 1-4)
Quotable: ?This is how you want to finish, you finish strong, and just to be able to see the confidence that we’re playing with, really just having a tremendous feel. Everyone’s game is getting better.? – Coach Brenda Frese.
8. Delaware (26-1, 17-0)
Delaware is No. 6 in the latest RPI, but given its schedule, it?s hard to know how legit the team is as a Final Four contender. What isn?t up for debate is the impact of junior forward Elena Della Donne, a 6-foot-4 female Dirk Nowitzki who can hit jumpers from anywhere on the court. Della Donne has averaged 28.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and has shot 52.4 percent (270 of 515) from the field. The Blue Hens have won 16 consecutive games and are just one of four Division I teams with one loss or less, including Baylor, Stanford and Green Bay.
Next Up: at William & Mary (Feb. 29), Colonial Athletic Association Tournament at Upper Marlboro, Md. (March 8-11)
Quotable: ?It?s been an amazing career so far. I?m really just enjoying it every step of the way with my teammates and coaches, but it doesn?t compare to what our team is accomplishing this season. I just don?t want to lose, bottom line. ? Delle Donne
9. St. John?s (20-8, 12-3)
I?m going all-in on St. John?s as a top-10 team, even though the AP has them at No. 20. The Red Storm has won nine of its last 10 games, including its historic road win over UConn on Feb. 18. They play hard every game — especially on defense — and its offensive stars, junior guard Nadirah McKenith and senior forward Da?Shena Stevens, are rolling after injuries earlier this season. St. John?s has played the ninth toughest schedule in the country and they have an impressive 4-4 record against top-25 RPI teams.
Next Up: vs. Georgetown (Feb. 27), Big East Championships at Hartford (March 2-6)
Quotable: ?In Da?Shena?s first couple of games, we didn?t even need her to score. Her presence, just being on the floor and being able to rebound and being able to lead and being able to defend just made the rest of them so comfortable and able to relax and take a break. Since she?s been back we have taken off? If anybody, the NCAA committee, the AP writers or the coaches, look at how we?ve been since we?ve been healthy, I don?t think there?s any question that we?re not one of the best teams in the country.? ? St. John?s coach Kim Barnes Arico
10. Tennessee (21-8, 11-4)
Even its coaches can?t figure Tennessee out. “We’re playing all the keys,” assistant coach Dean Lockwood told the Knoxville-News Sentinel. “Hitting them lightly, hitting them firmly and we’re still finding we haven’t hit that magical note.? Tennessee has turned the ball over way too much this season (an average of 15.7 per game) and has a low scoring margin (+14.8) for a Pat Summitt-coached team. But the Lady Vols have played the toughest schedule in the country (as of Feb. 20) and that should help them in the tournament.
Next Up: SEC Championships at Nashville (March 1-4)
Quotable: “Everyone knows about our class, we haven’t been to a Final Four. That’s really what we are looking for. But first, we need to focus finish out the SEC conference [games] and take care of the SEC conference tournament and really get down to business in the NCAAs.” ? senior Glory Johnson