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

Updated: February 13, 2006, 4:17 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press