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.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press