Just more than a month into the season, there is little to no debate over which are the two best women's college basketball teams in the country. With possible apologies to those in Knoxville, South Bend and Lexington, Connecticut and Duke entered the season at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, and neither team has done anything up this point to indicate any errors in that assessment.
The real question, as we embark on another 1-versus-2 matchup on Tuesday night (ESPN2/ WatchESPN, 7 ET) in Durham, N.C., is whether the Blue Devils are right there with the Huskies as a true threat to the top spot … or merely closer to the rest of the pack that includes Tennessee, Notre Dame, Kentucky and a few others.
The history of 1-2 matchups and the recent history between the two programs both work strongly against Duke in this regard. Connecticut has played extremely well against the best of the best, and even better against Duke.
This is the 52nd time the top two teams in the Associated Press women's poll have met. No. 1 leads 31-20 and has won nine of the past 10. The most recent came about 51 weeks ago and, not surprisingly, involved the Huskies. With many of the same players who will take the floor Tuesday night (including Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck, both of whom are expected back from injuries), Connecticut crushed Stanford 61-35. Not coincidentally, that was the only time in the last 10 of these such meetings that the No. 2 team prevailed. UConn was ranked behind the Cardinal, but dominated the matchup at Maples Pavilion to stop Stanford's 82-game home winning streak and steal the top ranking.
Perhaps more important, UConn is 14-3 in these 1-versus-2 matchups. No program in the sport is even close to that kind of success rate. Louisiana Tech is next-best at 9-4, but the last time the Lady Techsters were involved in such a game, Amanda Wilson and Tamicha Jackson were trying to keep pace with Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings in the 1997-98 season opener.
Tuesday's showdown will mark the fourth straight season Connecticut is involved in a 1-2 battle. The Huskies have split their last two appearances, falling to top-ranked Baylor in December 2011. Duke, meanwhile, is 3-3 in 1-versus-2 meetings, but hasn't played in one since 2007, when the Blue Devils won at North Carolina.
The uglier number for Duke is its recent history against Connecticut -- six straight blowout losses -- which has served as a symbol of the Blue Devils' inability to get to the next level and reach a Final Four.
While its current ranking is the highest Duke has reached prior to any of those past six matchups with the Huskies (previously as high as No. 3 and as low as No. 9), the Blue Devils have lost those six straight by an average margin of 29.3 points. Twice in the past three meetings Duke entered this game unbeaten (16-0 last season and 20-0 in 2011) and lost those games 79-49 and 87-51.
The last win for Duke in the series dates back to the 2006 NCAA tournament Bridgeport Regional final. Monique Currie was still a Blue Devil. Maya Moore wasn't even in college yet. Gail Goestenkors, not Joanne P. McCallie, was Duke's coach. The Blue Devils won that one in overtime, two games prior to losing the heartbreaking national title game to Maryland.