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Thursday, December 26
Updated: January 3, 10:22 PM ET
New year marks start of something big

By Melanie Jackson
Special to ESPN.com

The 2002-03 season already has featured some big-time matchups.

Diana Taurasi
In four games vs. Tennessee, Diana Taurasi has averaged 21.3 points.
No. 1 vs. No. 2. Texas over Tennessee. A rematch of last season's NCAA title game.

But things are about to heat up even more as the first week and a half of the new year brings a barrel of blockbusters.

Fourteen top-25 teams are in action on Jan. 2, but we'll start a day later. Here's a look at some games with some intriguing storylines:

Jan. 3: Two years and one week after suffering a torn ACL in the first half of a game at Oklahoma that ended her freshman season, Susan King will finally face the Sooners again as Stanford hosts OU. The game features two of the top women's coaches, and although OU has dropped to No. 20, don't underestimate Sherri Coale.

Jan. 4: This one should be named blockbuster Saturday as the CBS tripleheader includes Penn State-LSU (two good programs that have never won the NCAA title) and Purdue-Notre Dame (two good teams that have). But the really big game is the 2 p.m. ET matchup between Tennessee and Connecticut in Hartford. This rivalry, which spans 15 games and dates back to 1995, is as rich as it gets. The Huskies' 23-point win over Tennessee in last season's national semifinals prompted legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt to visit the UConn locker room singing praise. But you can bet that Tennessee is looking to snap the Huskies' winning streak, which would be at 50 games if UConn beats South Florida and Florida State in the meantime. UConn, which went 39-0 last season but returns only one starter in junior Diana Taurasi, already has set the second-longest winning streak in NCAA history. Louisiana Tech won 54 in a row from 1980-82.

Jan. 5: The country will get its first glimpse of Jim Foster in red (unless some camera catches him on the sidelines cheering on the Buckeyes at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., on Jan. 3) as Ohio State hosts Texas (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Foster, who left Vandy during the offseason, has the Buckeyes at 4-0 at home and 7-2 overall (the losses were to Villanova and UW-Green Bay). The day also features a matchup between the second and third best teams in the Old North State as UNC hosts N.C. State.

Jan. 6: Lindsay Whalen and Kelly Mazzante on the same court is a treat for any women's college basketball fan. And while Purdue will no doubt figure into the Big Ten race, Minnesota at Penn State is a great matchup in the first week of conference play.

Jan. 7: Maybe I'm just getting nostalgic. After all, these are two of the greatest programs in women's basketball history -- and Tennessee-Old Dominion just happen to be meeting on my 30th birthday. But there's really no reason to think Tennessee will have any trouble disposing of Old Dominion. Don't get me wrong. I was as happy as anyone last season when Wendy Larry and the Lady Monarchs ripped through the NCAA Tournament. But the Lady Vols are simply the better team this year. Still, you can't help but appreciate the success of both programs. And if Tennessee can beat Notre Dame on Saturday, then UConn on Jan. 4, a win here would mark Summitt's 799th coaching victory. The Lady Vols' next game is Jan. 12 vs. Auburn in Knoxville, Tenn.

Jan. 8: Rutgers is just 5-2 this season, with its most impressive win probably being a 10-point victory over Temple. But it's always fun to see one of the country's best defensive teams take on one of the nation's most potent offenses, and that's what you get when UConn hosts Rutgers. The Huskies nearly doubled up the Scarlet Knights last season, winning 80-42. But since the 1997-98 season, UConn has scored 60 or fewer points in just six games -- including two against Rutgers.

Jan. 9: This season, South Carolina's Jocelyn Penn has notched the top two scoring performances -- a 50-point effort (albeit controversial) on Dec. 4 and a 45-point night on Nov. 24. LaToya Thomas of Mississippi State ranks third with 42 points on Nov. 17. So to say the Mississippi State-South Carolina game features a lot of offensive firepower is an understatement.

Conference play has arrived
Most of the major conferences don't open league play until January, but the Pac-10 is getting a head start on the rest.

Eight Pac-10 teams are in action on Friday. Most notably, Stanford hosts Arizona State in a rematch of last season's Pac-10 tournament championship game, which the Sun Devils won.

Stanford has won 21 consecutive regular-season conference games dating back to March 3, 2001, and has won 14 straight at Maples Pavilion.

On Sunday, fourth-ranked Stanford hosts No. 24 Arizona. Wildcats coach Joan Bonvicini could win her 200th game at Arizona with a win over Cal on Friday.

Washington, which is on the verge of breaking into the top 25, opens Pac-10 play on Saturday at rival Washington State. The Huskies, who are 8-1 and boast four players averaging double-figures in scoring, are riding a seven-game winning streak. In its last game (a come-from-behind win over Iowa State), UW committed just three turnovers.

The ACC and Big Ten open conference play on Jan. 2, followed by the Big East (Jan. 4), Big 12 (Jan. 8) and SEC (Jan. 9).

Oregon's Cathrine Kraayeveld notched the season's best rebounding performance of the season so far, grabbing a career-high 22 rebounds on Dec. 20 in a win over Montana. Sixteen of Kraayeveld's rebounds came on the defensive end, where she also tallied a career-high five blocks. Through nine games, the 6-4 junior forward is averaging 2.7 blocks, and leads the team with a 16.7 scoring average.

ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel in her latest column: "Women's basketball should understand how much it owes Patsy Mink. She should be memorialized at the Final Four next April. The NCAA, the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, or both, should consider renaming or creating an award in her name. Too many people still don't know that name, and it's inexcusable."
Gabby Blankenfeld graduated from high school in 1986. Now she's a 34-year-old, 5-11 junior forward at NCAA D-II Rollins who's averaging 6.5 points and 5.4 rebounds. She's older than both the Tars' assistants, and only four years younger than OU coach Sherri Coale. For her great story, visit the Orlando Sentinel.

Melanie Jackson coordinates ESPN.com's women's college basketball coverage. Click here to e-mail the Dish with any story ideas, suggestions or feedback.

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