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Duke No. 1 again; UNC falls to No. 3 in AP poll

North Carolina's first loss of the season returned Duke to No. 1
in The Associated Press women's basketball poll.

In a close vote, Duke on Monday reclaimed the top spot it held
in the first three polls, the fourth change at No. 1 this season.

Duke (22-1) received 23 of 46 first-place votes from a national
media panel and had 1,115 points -- 12 more than No. 2 LSU (22-1).
LSU was No. 1 on 20 ballots.

North Carolina (23-1) slipped to third after a 98-95 overtime
loss to Maryland and received one first-place vote, while Maryland
(22-2) jumped two spots to fourth and picked up two first-place
votes.

The No. 4 ranking was the highest for Maryland since the
Terrapins were third the week of Jan. 12, 1993.

Duke's move to the top came after a week that featured three
games pitting Top 10 teams against each other. In each case, the
visitor won -- Maryland at North Carolina, LSU at Tennessee and
Rutgers at Connecticut.

North Carolina became No. 1 for the first time two weeks ago
following a victory at Duke and had been unanimous in each of the
last two polls. The Tar Heels bounced back from the Maryland loss
to beat Virginia 72-60.

Tennessee replaced Duke at No. 1 on Dec. 5 and held that spot
for eight weeks, falling out after consecutive losses to Duke and
Kentucky.

Voter Steve Tucker of the Chicago Sun-Times had Duke No. 1, but
said it was a tough call.

"It's like a coin flip right now," Tucker said. "The top
echelon teams can all beat each other. I just think Duke has all
the ingredients and in their loss, they basically had the game
[won] and sort of had a second-half meltdown."

Tucker put LSU second and North Carolina third.

"This is a year when I probably voted for more teams No. 1 than
anytime I've done this," Tucker said. "If you call me tomorrow, I
might change my mind."

LSU moved up to second after beating two ranked teams, winning
at No. 5 Tennessee for the first time and beating No. 13 Georgia at
home. The Lady Tigers' only loss this season was by three points at
Connecticut a month ago.

The victory at Tennessee helped sway Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis
Star-Tribune to vote for LSU at No. 1.

"Just winning at Tennessee speaks for itself. Then they came
back and beat a pretty good Georgia team in what could have been a
letdown game," Zgoda said. "Other than that Connecticut game,
they've done everything that's been asked of them."

Tony Bleill of the Champaign, Ill., News-Gazette kept North
Carolina No. 1 on his ballot, while putting Duke second and LSU
third.

"North Carolina has one loss, Duke has one loss, North Carolina
beat Duke and that game was at Duke," Bleill said. "That, to me,
gave North Carolina the edge over Duke."

But Bleill said he looked long and hard at each of the top three
teams before submitting his vote.

"Probably like a lot of voters, I agonized over that," he
said. "I can't recall having a week like this to determine No. 1.
It's not like you're choosing between two. You're choosing between
three teams."

There also was change at the bottom of the poll. Utah returned
after a five-week absence at No. 25. St. John's, which had been
ranked for two weeks, dropped out.

Tennessee remained fifth, while No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7
Rutgers each climbed one spot. Connecticut dropped four places to
eighth, Oklahoma held at No. 9 and Purdue stayed at No. 10.

Stanford jumped three places to 11th after beating UC Santa
Barbara and California to give coach Tara VanDerveer 500 victories
at the school and 652 overall. Then it was Baylor, Georgia,
Michigan State and Arizona State, followed by DePaul, Minnesota,
Boston College, BYU and New Mexico.

Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Temple, Louisiana Tech and Utah held the
final five places.

Utah (17-5) dropped out of the poll after successive losses to
New Mexico and BYU in early January. But the Utes have won eight of
nine since then, including a 70-52 victory at BYU last week.

St. John's moved into the rankings for the first time in 22
years on Jan. 30 and was 23rd last week. The Red Storm lost their
only game during the week, 75-59 to Marquette at home.