By Richard Deitsch
January 17, 2012
NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1 Baylor Lady Bears
Baylor Lady Bears (17-0, 4-0 Big 12)
Road games at Oklahoma (Jan. 26) and Texas A&M (Feb. 27) will be difficult but it's a good bet that Baylor will head into the NCAA tournament without a loss. Junior center Brittney Griner has become more aggressive this season and when her teammates get her enough touches, the Lady Bears are nearly impossible to beat. Griner had a season-high 32 points on Sunday in a win over Texas and is averaging 22.8 points and 10.4 rebounds. She also leads the nation in blocks with 90 and is shooting a near nation's best 63 percent from the field (153 of 243), up from 54.3 percent last season. The odds-on favorite to win it all.

Quotable: "Baylor is a great team and they've got a lot of great weapons. When you've got the best player on the planet to anchor things down, it makes things difficult and I'm not sure they don't have the second best player in the country with Odyssey Sims. They've just got a lot of different weapons."
-- Oklahoma State coach Jim Litrell, following his team's loss to Baylor on Jan. 11

Next Up: at Texas Tech (Jan. 18), vs. Kansas State (Jan. 21), at Oklahoma (Jan. 26), vs. Kansas (Jan. 28), at Missouri (Feb 1).
2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-1, 5-0 Big East)
How big was the Jan. 7 win over UConn? First, the Huskies had not lost a conference game in four years. But more importantly was the steel the Irish showed in coming back to pull out a win in overtime. Notre Dame's 17-1 record ties for the second-best 18-game start in school history, trailing the 18-0 start in 2000-01 and matching the 17-1 record of the 2009-10 club. Senior guard Natalie Novosel has scored in double figures for 25 straight games and leads the team in scoring at 16.4 points followed by junior guard Skylar Diggins (16.2). Notre Dame is outscoring its opponents by 33 points this season -- punch a ticket to Denver because this is a Final Four team.

Quotable: "I think we go into games now expecting to win. We have the confidence in each other. It's a different feeling, but we didn't go into the Baylor game [the team's only loss] that way. We've matured to that point now. Winning a game like this continues to feed that confidence."
-- Coach Muffet McGraw, after her team's win over UConn.

Next Up: vs. Pittsburgh (Jan. 17), vs. Villanova (Jan. 21), vs. Tennessee (Jan. 23), at St. John's (Jan. 28), at Rutgers (Jan. 31).
3 Connecticut Huskies
Connecticut Huskies (15-2, 4-1 Big East)
While the Huskies failed to close out leads against Baylor and Notre Dame, keep in mind they led those games late, and both were on the road. Ultimately, this will bode well for coach Geno Auriemma later this season or next year. "It just shows that we are not ready to win those kind of games," Auriemma said after his team's overtime loss to Notre Dame. "We have too many guys who have not been in that position before." That will change as sophomore guard Bria Hartley, center Stefanie Dolson and freshman Kalana Mosqueda-Lewis continue to improve and gain experience.

Quotable: "I'm upset with how things went. We had it in our hands. It was our game to win. With the way we played, we could have won it. We had the lead with under a minute. Like coach was saying, we didn't deserve to win it with the way we went out. So it's just frustrating."
-- senior guard Kelly Faris, on the loss to Notre Dame

Next Up: at DePaul (Jan. 21) at Syracuse (Jan. 25), vs. USF (Jan. 28), at Duke (Jan. 30), vs. Rutgers (Feb. 4).
4 Stanford Cardinal
Stanford Cardinal(15-1, 6-0 Pac-12)
It's hard to get a good read on the Cardinal. UConn rolled them by 10 points on Nov. 21, but Stanford pummeled Tennessee last month by 17 points. Stanford is anchored by senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who is playing like a future Wooden Award winner. She leads the conference in scoring (23.4) and rebounding (11.5) and along with Griner is the current leader for Player of the Year honors. Junior forward Joslyn Tinkle had a breakout game against Colorado with 20 points and significant output from her would be huge for the Cardinal come March.

Quotable: "One of the biggest things with our team is we stay poised. We don't panic. We just keep doing what we're doing."
-- Ogwumike, after a Jan. 12 win over Utah.

Next Up: vs. Washington State (Jan. 19), vs. Washington (Jan. 21), vs. Cal (Jan, 28), at Arizona State (Feb. 2), at Arizona (Feb. 4).
5 Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky Wildcats (15-1, 6-0 Pac-12)
John Calipari isn't the only one in Lexington with a powerhouse basketball team. Kentucky's 61-60 win over Tennessee on Jan. 12 was one of the biggest in program history and snapped Tennessee's 36-game SEC winning streak. The Wildcats are off to its best conference start ever at 5-0 and have beaten four top-25 ranked teams this season, including three top-10 teams. Junior guard A'dia Mathies is having a fantastic year (16.6 points and 56 steals) and Kentucky has a star-in-the-making in freshman guard Bria Goss. (11.4 points).

Quotable: "You have to make certain that you understand what it is. It's a win on a Thursday night in the Southeastern Conference. Emotionally, you have to understand it could've gone either way. It was not as it looked tonight and wouldn't have been as bad had we lost by one. You really have to keep it in perspective that it was a well-played, hard-fought game on our home court and we came out with a one-point win."
-- Kentucky coach Matt Mitchell, after his team's win over Tennessee.

Next Up: vs. Florida (Jan. 22), at Auburn (Jan. 26), vs. Alabama (Jan. 29), vs. Ole Miss (Feb. 2), at LSU (Feb. 5).
6 Duke Blue Devils
Duke Blue Devils (14-2, 5-0 ACC)
Center Elizabeth Williams is making quite a case for national Freshman of the Year honors. She's averaging 13.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks this season for a team with balanced scoring (six players are averaging nine points or more per game) that will continue to improve with its best players still underclassmen. Duke's only losses are to Notre Dame (by two) and a seven-point road loss to Kentucky.

Quotable: "She's strong and she plays with a lot of confidence. I think she's going to be extremely hard to deal with down the road. She's a good player."
-- Florida State forward Cierra Bravard on Elizabeth Williams

Next Up: vs. Maryland (Jan. 22), at Clemson (Jan. 27), vs. UConn (Jan. 30), vs. Wake Forest (Feb. 2), vs. North Carolina (Feb. 6).
7 Tennessee Lady Volunteers
Tennessee Lady Volunteers (2-1, 34-3 in '10-11)
So who are the real Lady Vols? Are they the team that whacked Miami by 16 points two months ago and trailed Baylor by one with under seven to play? Or are they the team that got rolled by Stanford in December and trailed most of the way against Kentucky last week? Assistant coach Mickie DeMoss put it succinctly following the loss to the Wildcats: "We have got to turn the corner as far as our mental toughness?.Our perimeter game is going to have to get a lot tougher right now." Sophomore guard Meighan Simmons has had brutal season, shooting 33 percent from the field and averaging just 10.4 points.

Quotable: "We have to be able to go on the road and have composure and know exactly what we have to do. We have to knock down shots, we have to play great defense, we have to get on the boards. Across the board we didn't do the things we needed to do to win this game."
-- Coach Pat Summitt, after her team's loss to Kentucky on Jan. 12.

Next Up: vs. LSU (Jan. 19), at Notre Dame (Jan. 23), at Alabama (Jan. 26), at Georgia (Jan. 29), vs. South Carolina (Feb. 2).
8 Miami Hurricanes
Miami Hurricanes (15-3, 4-1 ACC)
It's been a season of firsts for Miami: On Sunday, it defeated Florida State in Tallahassee for the first time in 25 years. Last week it defeated Maryland for the program's first-ever win over a Top 5 opponent. The two-headed monster of senior guards Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson continues to roll, averaging nearly 33 points per game. Junior forward Morgan Stroman (13.1 points) has proved to be an able third scorer.

Quotable:"I grabbed [Johnson] in the locker room and said, 'This is a total credit to you that you can have an off-night and struggle, and your team can beat a top-five team in the nation by 12 points 'You have rebuilt this program, and you have done amazing things here. And that's a credit to you, so you need to just relax and realize what a moment this is.'"
-- Coach Katie Meier to The South Florida Sun Sentinel, after her team's win over Maryland.

Next Up:at Virginia (Jan. 19), vs. Virginia Tech (Jan. 23), vs. Wake Forest (Jan. 26), at Boston College (Jan. 29), vs. Clemson (Feb. 5).
9 Maryland Terrapins
Maryland Terrapins (16-1, 3-1 ACC)
Sophomore forward Alyssa Thomas, last year's ACC Rookie of the Year, is emerging as one of the country's top players. She's averaging nearly 18 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for a team with plenty of frontcourt talent including senior center Lynetta Kinser and junior forward Tianna Hawkins. This team doesn't quit -- coming back from 20 down in the second half against Georgia Tech -- and its meeting with Duke next weekend should be a treat for hoops fans.

Quotable: "When I compare the successful teams I've gotten to coach -- at Minnesota and Maryland -- they're right up there with them. I say that in that it's easy for me to know what buttons to push, when to be positive and when to get into somebody. And they respond. That's what's fun -- they're so driven and competitive."
-- Maryland coach Brenda Frese, to, after defeating North Carolina in overtime.

Next Up: vs. Wake Forest (Jan. 19), at Duke (Jan. 22), vs. Virginia Tech (Jan. 26), vs. Boston College (Feb. 2), at Georgia Tech (Feb. 2).
10 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-0, 24-8 in '10-11)
Sure, Rutgers has faced a soft schedule but its two defeats have come against Tennessee, and a double overtime loss to Miami. Senior guard/forward April Sykes (14.6 points), junior forward Monique Oliver (12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds) and senior guard Khadijah Rushdan (12.1 points) form the nucleus of an interesting team. I'm not convinced we'll see Rutgers in the Elite Eight but the team has earned its Top 10 ranking. The upcoming three-game stretch against Georgetown, Notre Dame and UConn will provide clues just how legit Rutgers will be in 2012 .

Quotable: "There's a discipline, a level of expectation that is here, and I'm not going to change that. I'm still demanding, but I have the right personalities now. The past couple of years, I haven't really enjoyed myself. We just have to do a better job of recruiting the personalities and skills that meet me. When that happens, they're happy and I'm happy."
-- Frese, on her team's style of play

Next Up: at USF (Jan. 21), vs. DePaul (Jan. 24), at Georgetown (Jan. 29), vs. Notre Dame (Jan. 31), at UConn (Feb. 4).

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