- Charlie Creme, Women's College Basketball
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Stanford beat Baylor. Baylor beat Notre Dame. Notre Dame beat Connecticut. Connecticut beat Stanford.
It reads like the circle of life -- the elite of women's college basketball version.
However, there is one notable exception in this otherwise perfect circle of balance among 2012-13's top teams: the Duke Blue Devils.
While the rest of the preseason Final Four favorites have all had the opportunity to play at least two games against the rest of the group, Duke -- not so coincidentally, the only remaining unbeaten team in Division I -- has yet to play one.
That changes Monday night, when the Blue Devils visit Storrs. And if Duke wants inclusion in the list of truly elite teams this season, the Blue Devils must win this one.
Duke has played in four Final Fours, but the last appearance was in 2006. The Blue Devils have fallen one victory short of the Final Four each of the past three years. Getting to New Orleans this season would be the ultimate right of passage for this group.
Getting past the Huskies on Monday would be a huge next step, but this scenario might feel familiar. In their past three regular-season meetings, UConn has beaten Duke by an average of 28.3 points (that doesn't even include Duke's 35-point loss to UConn in the 2011 Elite Eight). Duke rolled into its game against the Huskies in late January each of the past three seasons only to have the good feeling erased in humiliating fashion. Connecticut is Duke's white whale.
Most believe that this edition of the Blue Devils, with two All-American candidates in Chelsea Gray (who's not being talked about enough) and Elizabeth Williams, is a legitimate Final Four contender. Duke is a lock to be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for a fifth straight season.
But the Blue Devils have flown under the radar for much of the season. Part of that stems from the lack of marquee games on the schedule to this point (although the comfortable wins over Cal and Michigan look even more impressive now), which is why Monday is so important. It also serves as Duke's only chance against the truly elite.
The two games each against Maryland and North Carolina won't be picnics, but those teams aren't in that upper echelon. Otherwise, this is a bit of a down year in the ACC (none of Duke's first six conference opponents are in the RPI top 50). The in-conference opportunities to re-establish itself if Monday doesn't go well just aren't there.
15dBonnie D. Ford