KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's No. 1 ranking never seems
safe when Connecticut is the opponent.
It's a curse that dates to the teams' first meeting, back in 1995, when the Lady Vols led The Associated Press poll. Tennessee lost that game -- and the top ranking. Later that season, UConn beat the Lady Vols in the NCAA title game.
Ever since, Tennessee and Connecticut have been dueling to dominate women's college basketball, combining to win seven of the past nine championships.
Tennessee (18-1) puts its top ranking on the line again Thursday, hosting Connecticut (16-2). The Huskies (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today; No. 4 AP) lead the series 11-6, including four straight victories -- most recently in the 2003 NCAA title game.
Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, whose 839 career wins are the most by a women's coach, won't concede anything to the Huskies, though.
"I think our program is one of the best, if not the best, in the nation, year in and year out,'' Summitt said. "I don't think
anyone has passed us by. We're still getting good recruits and going to Final Fours and playing in national championship games.''
The Lady Vols' most recent title, their sixth, came in 1998.
Connecticut was No. 1 for the first time after its 1995 regular-season victory over the Lady Vols and has been in the top
spot for 64 of the last 88 polls.
Until regaining the No. 1 spot Jan. 26, Tennessee had not been ranked there since 2001.
The Huskies' current position of fourth in the AP poll is their lowest ranking heading into a game against Tennessee, and they have lost -- gasp! -- two games already this season.
The underdog label just doesn't fit well with All-American Diana Taurasi and Co.
"Why are we the underdog? Look at the last five years -- you be the judge,'' Taurasi said.
The senior has been a big reason for Connecticut's success against Tennessee, which UConn coach Geno Auriemma nicknamed the "Evil Empire'' last year.
Taurasi has averaged 23 points in five games against the Lady Vols. She's averaging 17.4 points this season.
The Lady Vols have their own worries. They are facing their toughest opponent yet without point guard Loree Moore, who tore a knee ligament Jan. 24 during a victory at then-No. 1 Duke.
Tennessee has won the two games since, including Sunday's overtime thriller against Auburn.
"I think we'll get better,'' Summitt said. "We're obviously not as explosive in the open court without Loree.''