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Gators improving by leaps and bounds

When she took over the Florida women's basketball program nearly two years ago, Carolyn Peck knew it would be a tough assignment. She had a team with one scholarship player who had any collegiate experience. The result was one conference win last season.

All along, Peck kept saying things would get better. Suddenly, it doesn't sound so strange.

Florida is 14-5 overall and 4-2 in the SEC after defeating Alabama 76-69 at home Thursday night. Midway through the season, the Gators already have won five more games than they did all of last year.

"One of the biggest keys is the experience," Peck said. "We were very young last year and we were not familiar with each other. Now we're understanding what we're both looking for as a staff and a team and that's combined as one. That's really helped us a lot."

The change is definitive. Florida didn't win its ninth game until Feb. 27 last season. Its schedule is rated second toughest in the nation by RPI standards, and while it is not ranked, Florida is 3-1 against nationally ranked opponents this season.

Florida's success may be a team effort, but at the forefront is senior center Vanessa Hayden. She has 13 double-doubles and is fourth in the nation in blocked shots and sixth in rebounding.

""One of our goals was to win more than one game in the SEC, and we've achieved that," Hayden said. "This team has come so far from last year to now, and we just want to keep moving forward."

The early success is nice, but Peck knows the program still has a long way to go.

"It's not a sprint, that's the thing," she said. "It's a long process, because what we don't want to do is have a quick fix and get the program there real quickly and then it drops down. We want to get this program to where it can sustain. This year is tough. Next year will be tough, too. But once we do, after a few years we'll get it there and maintain. We're going to have some success along the way, although it can be a little bumpy, but we want to get it there where it sustains it there all the time."

Quotable

"You have to switch gears a lot. I think Pat (Summitt) prepared me for that. I think at Tennessee, even as an assistant, I had to do that a lot because I was involved in a lot of the program. Some assistants may just be recruiters or break film down or they just whatever. But at Tennessee, I was somewhat involved in a lot of the aspects of the program so I was somewhat prepared to switch gears a lot."

_ MICKIE DeMOSS

Kentucky coach on how she was ready for her role as a head coach after spending 18 seasons as an assistant under Summitt. DeMoss' Wildcats lost to Tennessee 81-72 in the first meeting between the two old friends Thursday night.

Must-see TV

7 P.M. THURSDAY, ESPN2: Connecticut at Tennessee.

With the Super Bowl on tap this weekend, there are no big-time, nationally televised games. But have no fear, the network is going to make it up to you. Two of the nation's premier programs will face off, led by two of the game's most prolific coaches. Between them, No. 4 UConn and No. 1 Tennessee have won a combined nine national championships under Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt. Connecticut has struggled this season, at least by its standards, and the Vols will be without their starting point guard. None of that will matter in this game. It never does.

Off the rim

Tennessee's first No. 1 ranking in nearly three years has been tempered by the loss of starting point guard Loree Moore. The junior suffered a torn ACL in her left knee in last Saturday's win over Duke and will miss the remainder of the season.

"Certainly, the loss of Loree has been a tough situation for us to handle emotionally because she is the one player who can get us going at both ends," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said Wednesday during her weekly teleconference. "Her ability to break down the defense in the open floor, push our transition game and her defensive presence on and off the ball have allowed us to extend our defense more. We will challenge our team to step up, and a lot of individuals understand that they have to be accountable on the defensive end and more efficient on the offensive end. We had a great workout the other day. I like how they have responded to a difficult situation with the loss of their teammate."

Moore was injured during a play in which she was fouled by Duke's Alana Beard while attempting a shot on a breakaway after a steal. And while many basketball message boards and chat sites have named Beard as the culprit, Beard told ESPN.com's Melanie Jackson that Moore called her and told her that she was not responsible for her injury.

"I talked with Loree on Monday and she assured me the injury was not my fault, and that it happened before I fouled her," Beard said.

DePaul reaches new heights

DePaul moved up three spots to No. 13 in this week's Associated Press poll, the highest ranking by a DePaul women's team, surpassing its No. 15 position during the 1995-96 season. It also is the highest ranking in Conference USA history. During the 1999-2000 season, Tulane was No. 13 in the Jan. 10, 2000 AP poll. DePaul (19-1) is on an 11-game winning streak and has put together some unbelievable numbers. They have scored at least 90 points in 10 games and 100 five times this season, a single-season school record. They have scored at least 50 points in the first half 11 times. Here's a look at the longest winning streaks in DePaul history prior to this season:

STREAK DATES

17 Jan. 11-March 3, 1988

15 Dec. 14, 1978-Feb. 6, 1979

11 March 8, 1985-Jan. 4, 1986

10 Jan. 30-Feb. 28, 1982

9 Five times in school history

8 Four times in school history

_ Compiled by Antonya English.

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