Defending champion UConn ranked fourth
Tennessee is no longer chasing Connecticut. The Lady Vols are back on top.
Pat Summitt's team took the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press' preseason women's basketball poll Monday, the 11th time it has started the season atop the rankings -- and first since 1998.
|“||I don't think there's much difference in the top teams. I think you could look at the top five and say on a given night, any team can win. It probably goes even deeper than that. ”|
|— Pat Summitt|
The Lady Vols received 20 of 45 first-place votes from a national media panel to edge Texas, Southeastern Conference rival LSU and three-time defending NCAA champion UConn for No. 1.
"I was a little surprised, based on the players we lost and the fact that only three of our freshmen are healthy right now," Summitt said. "But as I told our team, it certainly is a compliment to them and how they finished last year and also to our newcomers."
Tennessee had 1,085 points in the voting, while Texas had 1,056, three more than LSU. Connecticut was fourth with 1,017.
Texas had seven first-place votes, LSU 12, and UConn six.
Tennessee returns starters Shanna Zolman, Loree Moore and Shyra Ely, plus four other veterans, from a 31-4 team that lost to Connecticut in the national championship game in April.
As if that weren't enough, Summitt signed the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, including the No. 1 prospect, Candace Parker. But Parker and two other freshmen, Alex Fuller and Sade Wiley-Gatewood, are injured. Fuller is out for the season.
Still, the Lady Vols have three other talented newcomers. They'll be needed because Summitt has put together another brutal nonconference schedule that includes seven teams from the preseason Top 25.
"I've turned to this veteran group to really help us through the process of teaching our freshmen," said Summitt, who has six NCAA titles. "Our expectations are always high here. As veterans and as leaders, they have to raise the bar for the younger players."
Connecticut led the first poll in four of the previous five seasons and will try to become the first school to win four straight NCAA women's basketball titles.
But the Huskies had a major loss with the graduations of superstar Diana Taurasi and point guard Maria Conlon. Coach Geno Auriemma is hardly without talent, though, because standouts Ann Strother, Barbara Turner and Jessica Moore all are back.
Texas returns four starters after tying Kansas State for the Big 12 championship last season. LSU has a star in Seimone Augustus and a new coach in Pokey Chatman, who filled in for the ailing Sue Gunter last season and took the Lady Tigers to the Final Four for the first time.
Chatman got the job on a permanent basis when Gunter retired in April.
A third SEC team, Georgia, was ranked fifth, followed by Duke, Stanford, Baylor and North Carolina. Ohio State and Notre Dame tied for 10th.
Then it was Texas Tech in 12th, and Vanderbilt 13th, followed by Minnesota, Michigan State, Purdue, Rutgers, Boston College, Kansas State and DePaul.
Penn State, Oklahoma, Maryland, Arizona and Louisiana Tech held the final five places.
"I don't think there's much difference in the top teams," Summitt said. "I think you could look at the top five and say on a given night, any team can win. It probably goes even deeper than that."
Every team in the Top 25 except Maryland was ranked last season. Maryland made the AP poll for the first time since the week of Nov. 19, 2001.
The No. 25 ranking for Louisiana Tech was the lowest for the Lady Techsters since the 1991-92 season, when they were unranked in the final 16 polls.
Some early games could cause an immediate shuffling in the poll.
In a doubleheader at Austin, Texas, on Sunday, Texas meets Penn State, and LSU takes on Baylor. LSU also has to play two games before that, Minnesota has a challenging game against UNLV, and Duke, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Arizona all are in the preseason WNIT starting Friday.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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