After starting the season as the top-ranked team in the country, the Tennessee women had a shaky start and plummeted to No. 10 in the Associated Press rankings -- the Lady Vols' lowest ranking in nearly 10 seasons.
With Connecticut also faltering -- the Huskies fell out of the top 10 in December for the first time in 10 years -- it appeared that a power shift was occurring in women's college basketball. Would this be the year -- only the third in the last 11 -- that neither Tennessee nor Connecticut won the national championship?
Although that remains a distinct possibility, don't count Tennessee out. The fifth-ranked Lady Vols (18-3) have won 10 in a row and are tied atop the Southeastern Conference standings with No. 1 LSU (21-1). The teams are 8-0 in conference play going into Thursday's nationally televised game.
"Certainly we were slow out of the gate," Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said. "At the beginning of the year, I just felt like -- for whatever reason -- we took a long time to really play well together, to get in sync. We didn't have the chemistry we have right now."
Summitt has used six starting lineups in an effort to find some consistent scoring as Tennessee has gone through some uncharacteristic offensive droughts. The most egregious was its 65-51 loss to Rutgers on Dec. 29. The Lady Vols made only four first-half field goals and had just 16 points at halftime against the Scarlet Knights.
Tennessee's offensive production has picked up in its last two games. The Lady Vols scored more than 90 points in their wins against Florida and Mississippi.
It will be interesting to see if Tennessee can keep up that scoring pace against LSU. The Lady Tigers have held 19 of their 22 opponents to 58 points or less and rank sixth in Division I in scoring defense (51.4 points per game).
If Tennessee, which has won 42 consecutive SEC regular season games, wants to win its eighth straight SEC regular season title, the Lady Vols will have to win in Baton Rouge on Thursday.
It is worth noting that in the 1996-97 season, when Tennessee last dropped to No. 10 in the polls, the Lady Vols won the national championship that year. If they can repeat that feat, Summitt would become the all-time winningest basketball coach, men or women. Summitt is 10 victories shy of passing Dean Smith's record of 879 wins.
Chip Off the Old Irvin Block
Most people know TCU's 6-foot-3 senior forward Sandora Irvin as the niece of former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, and just as her uncle put his name in the record books so did the younger Irvin.
Sandora Irvin blocked eight shots against Memphis on Saturday, giving her 434 career blocks, an NCAA Division I record. She also holds the single-game record after blocking 16 shots against UAB on Jan. 16. In that game, she also scored 20 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, becoming the first woman in TCU history to record a triple-double. The two-time Conference USA defensive player of the year and Wooden Award candidate averages 3.74 blocks per game.
"Isn't that incredible?" Michael Irvin told the Dallas Morning News. "When you talk about the people that have come through the NCAA, the Lisa Leslies and all that, it's absolutely amazing to me. I remember Sandora as the little girl walking around the house. It's absolutely amazing to hear that."
Eagles Take a Tumble
Boston College suffered the biggest drop in the AP poll this week, tumbling from 16 to 22. The Eagles lost to Notre Dame and St. John's last week after leading scorer Jessalyn Deveny ruptured her Achilles' tendon. Deveny is out for the season. . . .
Street & Smith's recently released "Greatest College Basketball Programs of All Time." In it, the magazine ranks the top 100 men's programs and top 10 women's programs. The Tennessee women rated No. 1, while Virginia was No. 8. . . .
Maryland forward Crystal Langhorne was selected the ACC rookie of the week for the fourth time this season, tying a school record. Langhorne, who leads the league in double-doubles with 10, is averaging 16.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.