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La. Tech enters Top 25 at No. 24; UNC still No. 1

Louisiana Tech's longest absence from The Associated Press
women's basketball poll is over.

The Lady Techsters (16-4) joined the poll tied for 24th with
Texas A&M on Monday, the first time they've been ranked since the
week of Nov. 29, 2004. When Tech dropped out the following week, it
ended a string of 221 consecutive appearances in the poll.

"After we fell out of the Top 25 last year, there's been a lot
of hard work to get back, by the staff and the players," said
Chris Long, Tech's first-year coach and a former assistant at the
school.

"There's a lot of tradition at Louisiana Tech. To be back in
the Top 25 is a good feeling. I'm excited about that."

Texas A&M (17-5) made the Top 25 for the first time since it was
25th in the final poll of the 1995-96 season.

North Carolina (22-0), the nation's only unbeaten team, was a
unanimous choice at No. 1 for the second straight week as the top
seven stayed the same. Duke was second and LSU third, followed by
Connecticut, Tennessee, Maryland and Ohio State.

The closest vote in that group was for the No. 3 spot. LSU edged
UConn by two points in the voting by a 46-member national media
panel.

North Carolina State and Kentucky dropped out, one week after
both joined the Top 25.

Louisiana Tech has been synonymous with excellence in women's
basketball for years. Tech has won two NCAA championships, has made
10 Final Four trips, was ranked No. 1 in 36 consecutive polls in
the early 1980s and has played in every NCAA Tournament. Monday's
appearance was the school's 442nd in 513 polls.

But the Lady Techsters' national profile has dimmed recently.
Long, who spent six years as an assistant in Ruston before getting
the head job last spring, wants to get that re-established.

"We tried to schedule as hard a non-conference schedule as we
could," he said. "All we could do is try to win. I felt like if
we did that, we'd get recognized and get back in the Top 25 and
it's happened."

Texas A&M has improved each season under third-year coach Gary
Blair, who inherited a program that had gone through seven straight
losing seasons and never finished higher than ninth in the Big 12.

After a 9-19 record his first year, A&M went to the WNIT last
season and finished 16-15. Now, the Aggies are tied for second in
the Big 12 after Sunday's 17-point victory over Texas Tech.

"Our goal this year was very, very simple -- just to get to the
NCAA Tournament," said Blair, who has been an assistant at
Louisiana Tech and coach at Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas.
"That's where we are in the growth of this program.

"To get to the tournament, you've got to beat people who have
been there before, like Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State.
That's what we're trying to do."

The Aggies are winning with youth and depth. Blair starts two
freshmen and three sophomores and has nine players averaging at
least 10 minutes a game.

"This isn't a Cinderella team," Blair said. "This is a team
that's playing up to its expectations and you do it with defense
first, rebounding second and offense third. It seems kind of funny
that we're tied with La Tech for that last spot. That's where I
learned all those things."

North Carolina responded to its first No. 1 ranking with solid
wins over North Carolina State and Georgia Tech. The most
impressive victory among the top teams was LSU's 30-point rout of
Baylor, which dropped from 10th to 12th.

Rutgers moved up one spot to eighth, Oklahoma climbed two places
to ninth and Purdue fell from eighth to 10th after a split -- an
overtime loss at Iowa and a victory at Penn State.

Minnesota advanced one place to 11th and is riding a seven-game
winning streak that has lifted the Gophers six spots in the last
five weeks.

After Baylor at No. 12, it was Georgia, Stanford and Michigan
State, followed by Arizona State, DePaul, BYU, Temple and New
Mexico.

Boston College was 21st, Vanderbilt 22nd and St. John's 23rd, up
two spots after breaking into the poll last week.

No one climbed more than two places within the poll. DePaul and
New Mexico dropped four spots after each lost twice last week.

Kentucky gained its first national ranking in 13 years at No. 21
last week, then lost to Georgia and Florida. North Carolina State,
which has been in and out all season, rejoined at No. 24 a week ago
but lost its next three games, including setbacks to North Carolina
and Boston College.