They're undeniable. Led by senior Darxia Morris's (right) 11.4 points per game, No. 12 UCLA (12--1) is off to its best start in 30 years. Meanwhile, fourth-ranked Stanford (10--2) pulled off an epic upset last week over UConn 71--59 (page 21), keeping the West Coast ladies—ahem—fine, fresh, fierce and on lock.
DEFENSE: BELIEVE IT
On Sunday defensive stud Shea Weber led the Predators to a 4--1 win over the Blue Jackets with a goal and two assists; and in Atlanta defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (right) became the first NHL player this season to reach three OT goals during a 4--3 win over Montreal.
The inclusion of Cincinnati last week bumped to seven the number of Big East teams in the AP Top 25 basketball poll, including unbeaten No. 4 Syracuse and No. 8 UConn, which boasts the country's leading scorer, Kemba Walker (right; 26.7 ppg).
Adam Vinatieri (right) padded his legacy as the game's best-ever clutch kicker by nailing three 40-yard-plus field goals (a career first), including a 43-yarder that topped the Titans on Sunday and sent surging Indy into the playoffs with its fourth straight win and a No. 3 seed.
The Devils (2--8 in their last 10) and the Nets (9--25 overall) both sat in last place in their respective divisions, seemingly finding new ways to lose each night. In last Saturday's 6--3 loss to the Hurricanes, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur was yanked after allowing three goals in just eight minutes—the earliest hook of his career.
OFFENSE: WHO NEEDS IT?
For the first time in 51 years the Packers scored 10 points or fewer against the Bears at Lambeau Field and still won, while in Kansas City the Chiefs put up just 10 points in a loss to the Raiders. But wouldn't you know it, both teams are playoff bound.
Each of the five Big Ten schools who played in New Year's Day bowl games lost (total score: 204--102). And the remaining bowler, Ohio State, had only Tuesday's Sugar Bowl against Arkansas to look forward to before five of its players start five-game suspensions in 2011.
Kobe Bryant's 28-point effort on Sunday against the Grizzlies wasn't enough as L.A. fell 104--85 for its fourth loss in six games. Coach Phil Jackson said Bryant "screwed up the game by going one-on-one," to which Bryant responded, "I'm not buying any of that Zen bull----."
SI PLAYERS NBA POLL
WHO DO YOU HATE TO SEE BETWEEN YOU AND THE HOOP?
Shaquille O'Neal, Celtics C 40%
Dwight Howard, Magic C 30%
LeBron James, Heat F 10%
Blake Griffin, Clippers F 2%
Reggie Evans, Raptors F 2%
Howard was the top choice by rookies (40%), while Shaq was the overwhelming choice of players with more than five years in the league (42.4%).... Despite playing just five games in the last two seasons, the Rockets' Yao Ming still attracted 2% of the vote.... Bucks center Andrew Bogut—who stands 7 feet tall but weighs just 260 pounds, and through Sunday led the NBA with 2.8 blocks per game—did not receive a single vote.
Based on a survey of 168 NBA players
KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT/US PRESSWIRE (MORRIS)
RIC TAPIA/ICON SMI (BYFUGLIEN)
DAVID BUTLER II/US PRESSWIRE (WALKER)
BRIAN SPURLOCK/US PRESSWIRE (VINATIERI)
ALAN DIAZ/AP (JAMES)
FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (O'NEAL)