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Friend or foe

At one time they were colleagues, one hired by the other to help continue the tradition of a winning Purdue program. Sunday, they'll be adversaries, at least for a couple of hours.

When Florida hosts Auburn, former Boilermakers coaches Carolyn Peck and Nell Fortner will be on opposite sides. Fortner, in her first season as coach at Auburn, hired Peck as an assistant when she joined Purdue in 1997. Fortner left and Peck went on to lead Purdue to a national title.

"I think she's done an excellent job in her coaching career," Fortner said. "In a lot of ways our styles are similar. We like an up-tempo game, and we like athletes who can get up and down the floor. I'll tell you that we are very similar in more ways than not."

Fortner returned to the college game last summer after a seven-year hiatus, during which time she was the coach of the U.S. women's national team that won a gold medal in 2000 and later became a television analyst for ESPN. During her absence, Fortner believes things have changed, for the better.

"The game itself really hasn't changed, I don't think, but the athletes have," she said. "One thing I noticed this summer recruiting was there's a lot more players spread out across the country coming out of high school that are very talented. So I think that parity in our game is right around the corner because there are great players all around the country and they are going to different schools."

Off the rim

If you hadn't taken notice before, now might be a good time to give some props to C. Vivian Stringer 's Rutgers program.

The Scarlet Knights have knocked off three top-10 opponents in an eight-day span, their most recent a 51-49 overtime win over No. 1 LSU Wednesday night. It was Rutgers' first win over a top-ranked opponent since a 54-53 win over eventual national champion Notre Dame in 2001. Rutgers has won five of six and snapped the nation's longest active homecourt win streak (41) when it beat No. 4 Texas this week. It also knocked off No. 8 Tennessee on Dec. 29. Meanwhile, Stringer continues to place herself among the game's elite, having picked up her 700th win Dec. 8 (68-46 over Princeton), becoming the fourth women's coach to reach that milestone.

Must-see TV

TODAY: No. 8 Tennessee at No. 11 Connecticut, 2, Ch. 10. It's not what fans are accustomed to from these programs. But make no mistake: When these two get together, you're hard-pressed not to see a good game. Both teams already have three losses, and for the first time in the series one isn't ranked in the top 10. But the programs have combined to win nine of the past 15 NCAA championships, and the Huskies have won six straight over the Vols, including a victory in last season's national championship game. So there's more than enough incentive for both sides. The Vols have never won at the Hartford Civic Center. And lest we forget, there's always the sideline battle between Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt .


"I think it is what it is: It is Tennessee and Connecticut. It has been the most-watched regular season game in recent years. Obviously, the rankings have been different. I do not think it will affect the game that much."

_ PAT SUMMITT, on whether there is still nationwide interest in the UT-UConn game because of the lower than normal rankings.

_ ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times staff writer

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