It was only 11 months ago that Connecticut and Baylor were last preparing to meet. But in terms of how much the view of the women's game has changed at the top, it might as well have been 11 years.
At this time last season, Baylor was the huge favorite to win the title. The Lady Bears were the unstoppable force. Winning the Big 12 and a No. 1 seed were foregone conclusions. The idea of someone else winning the national championship seemed absurd. Sure, Baylor had lost to Stanford in Hawaii, but played a large amount of that game without Odyssey Sims. And could anyone really stop Brittney Griner and Baylor as they marched to a second straight title?
Meanwhile, UConn, while still outstanding and a projected No. 1 seed at the time, was not thought of with the same reverence as UConn teams of the past. The Huskies were fairly young, and Notre Dame had found the soft spot.
UConn was the chaser for a change. Baylor was the target.
While perhaps difficult to envision now (time has a way of altering our perception of the past), that was the mindset on Feb. 18, 2013, when last these teams met. Now the roles have reversed; Connecticut is dominating again, while Baylor is a top-10 program, still in a fight to win a conference title, with hopes -- but no guarantee -- of a top seed.
Last year's game had a similar feel to Monday's -- a highly anticipated tournament-type preview between two of the best, a chance to witness more talent than most games provide. And the game played out that way. UConn was more than competitive on its home floor. The Huskies even had a seven-point lead early in the second half. But true to form, Baylor was just too good. Griner dominated at the key moments of the second half. When the horn sounded, the Lady Bears had confirmed -- with a 76-70 win, their 65th in 66 games -- that they were the undisputed top team in the game. The No. 1 overall seed belonged to them and it didn't appear that anyone would be good enough in the NCAA tournament to dethrone Baylor (if the Huskies couldn't do it in Hartford, Conn., then who could?).
Of course, that all changed on the fateful Sunday evening last March when Louisville answered the question that didn't seem to have an answer -- who could possibly beat Baylor? The Cardinals & And as it turns out, that upset was the first step in establishing where we are today.
The Huskies once again are the no-brainer overall No. 1 seed, the unquestioned favorite to repeat as champions, the team for which there doesn't appear to be an answer. Baylor is a good team, playing on its home floor with a puncher's chance, but also a decided underdog. With the schedule as it is in the American Athletic Conference, other than two, maybe three games with Louisville, this is the last time the Huskies will even break a sweat until late March.
The road to Nashville doesn't feel a whole lot different from the road to New Orleans, but the lead dog (or bear) is different, and Monday's matchup is the prime example of that change.
If this edition of the Lady Bears hopes for a No. 1 seed this year, a win Monday would go a long way. Baylor is currently No. 7 overall on the S-curve. Without upsetting UConn, a top seed likely won't happen. That would require virtually running the table in the Big 12 and getting some help along the way. That help would partially come from these very same Huskies. Baylor would need UConn to also beat Louisville each time those teams meet to push the Cardinals down the list. Duke would likely need to do the same to Maryland and/or Notre Dame in the ACC.