UNC replaces Duke atop AP women's poll

Updated: February 27, 2006, 5:32 PM ET
Associated Press

La'Tangela Atkinson and her North Carolina teammates didn't have to wait long to get back to No. 1.

North Carolina returned to the top of The Associated Press women's basketball poll Monday, just two weeks after surrendering the program's first No. 1 ranking.

The Tar Heels (26-1) replaced Duke at No. 1 after beating the Blue Devils for the second time this season and fifth straight time overall. They received all 46 first-place votes from a national media panel, which dropped Duke (25-2) to second.

North Carolina became No. 1 for the first time Jan. 30 and stayed there for two weeks. The Tar Heels dropped to third after losing to Maryland and then moved up to second last week. Their return to the top was assured when they rolled past Duke 77-65 on Saturday.

Atkinson, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds in that game, said earning the No. 1 ranking the first time was special because the team was able to do it for coach Sylvia Hatchell. And now?

"It's nice to be No. 1, but who's going to be No. 1 in April? That matters to me," Atkinson said. "We have to continue to get better and play every game."

Hatchell said she's pleased because her players have shown they want more than a No. 1 ranking.

"After the game Saturday, I looked at them and said, 'Guys, congratulations. You're the ACC regular-season champions,'" Hatchell said. "Then I said, 'I've got a question for you. Is this enough?' They were screaming, 'No, no, no.'

"They're having fun. We just want to keep it rolling," she said.

North Carolina and Duke could meet a third time in the finals of the ACC tournament on Sunday. Both are strong candidates to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"My biggest challenge is to keep this team level, to keep them down, to keep them from exploding," Hatchell said. "This is a high-energy group. They're fun. They can't wait for tournament time."

Florida was the lone newcomer, returning to the poll in a tie for 23rd after a 95-93 overtime victory at then-No. 5 Tennessee. The Gators (20-7) were ranked for one week last month.

Boston College dropped out.

Duke had a two-week run at No. 1 this month after leading the first three polls of the season. The Blue Devils edged No. 3 LSU (25-2) by eight points in the voting, while Maryland held at No. 4.

Tennessee's loss, its first at home to an unranked team in 22 years, caused some shuffling in the next four spots. Losses by Purdue, Michigan State, Boston College and Temple brought about some rearranging in the final 14 places.

Tennessee dropped three places to eighth, while No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Rutgers and No. 7 Connecticut each moved up one spot. Oklahoma remained ninth and Baylor was still 10th.

Arizona State kept its No. 11 ranking, Georgia went from 13th to 12th and Stanford climbed two places to 13th.

Purdue fell two spots to 14th after splitting two games, a loss at Ohio State and a victory at Wisconsin. Then it was DePaul, Michigan State and Utah, followed by BYU, Louisiana Tech and Minnesota.

New Mexico was 21st, Temple 22nd and Vanderbilt tied Florida for 23rd. Texas A&M remained 25th.

BYU made the biggest jump within the poll, moving from 21st to 18th. Stanford, Utah, Minnesota and New Mexico all gained two places.

Temple's fall from 17th to 22nd was the biggest drop in the poll. The Owls lost to George Washington 55-50 in overtime and then beat Rhode Island 91-79.

Florida's victory at Tennessee was the Gators' second over a top five team in 11 days. They beat LSU 79-78 in overtime on Feb. 16 and then lost at Auburn 73-58 three days later. Before beating LSU, Florida had lost to South Carolina 81-63.

Boston College (19-10), which had been tied with Temple for 17th, lost to North Carolina, North Carolina State and Florida State to extend its losing streak to four. The Eagles had been ranked for nine of the previous 10 weeks.

Most of the Top 25 teams have finished the regular season and are preparing for conference tournaments. Besides the ACC, the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big East, Atlantic 10 and Southeastern Conference all start tournament play this week.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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