Tar Heels finish atop AP poll for first time ever

Updated: March 13, 2006, 9:14 PM ET
Associated Press

North Carolina finished No. 1 in the voting, and now the Tar Heels can concentrate on doing the same on the court.

North Carolina led the final Associated Press women's basketball poll Monday, receiving all 46 first-place votes from a national media panel. Coach Sylvia Hatchell's team won both the ACC regular-season and tournament championships and, as expected, was made the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Tar Heels (29-1), who had never been ranked No. 1 before this season, led the poll the final three weeks. They were also No. 1 the weeks of Jan. 30 and Feb. 6 and fell to third after their only loss -- 98-95 in overtime to Maryland on Feb. 9.

A 77-65 victory over then-No. 1 Duke on Feb. 25 sent them back to the top.

"North Carolina is not just one of most talented teams in the country but also one of the most exciting teams to watch," said voter Jay Jenkins of the Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress, who has seen the Tar Heels in person several times. "Ivory Latta wills her team to great things and a run to the Final Four appears like a certainty."

North Carolina became the 13th school and the third from the ACC to finish No. 1 in the 30 years of the AP poll. Virginia was No. 1 at the end of the 1991-92 season. Duke led the final poll of the 2003-04 season.

Connecticut leads with six No. 1 finishes, all since 1995. Tennessee and Louisiana Tech have finished No. 1 five times each.

North Carolina's highest finish previously was fourth in 1994, 1997 and 2005. The Tar Heels won the NCAA championship in 1994.

With Maryland (28-4) ranked third and Duke (26-3) fourth, the ACC finished with three of the top four teams, the first time a conference had that many schools grouped at the top in the final poll. Ohio State (28-2) remained second after adding the Big Ten tournament championship to its regular-season title and LSU held at No. 5.

Ohio State, Duke and LSU are the NCAA Tournament's other No. 1 seeds, while Maryland is a No. 2. The tournament starts on Saturday.

Rutgers dropped from sixth to ninth after losing to West Virginia in the Big East semifinals. No. 6 Tennessee, No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 8 Connecticut moved up one spot each and Baylor remained 10th.

Conference tournament games caused some slight shuffling in the remaining 15 places and UCLA returned to the poll at No. 21 after beating Stanford to win the Pac-10 tournament. The Bruins had been ranked for three weeks early in the season.

Purdue climbed one place to 11th and Georgia moved up two spots to 12th. Then it was DePaul, Stanford and Arizona State, followed by Michigan State, Louisiana Tech, Utah, Temple and Texas A&M.

UCLA, BYU, Bowling Green, New Mexico and Minnesota held the final five places.

The loss to UCLA dropped Stanford from 11th to 14th. New Mexico fell three places to 24th after losing to UNLV in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals.

Texas A&M went from 22nd to 20th after reaching the Big 12 semifinals, where the Aggies lost to Baylor 53-52. Vanderbilt, which did not play last week, dropped out. The Commodores had been 25th.

Thirty-nine teams were ranked this season, including seven that remained in the top 10 in every poll -- North Carolina, Ohio State, Duke, LSU, Rutgers, Tennessee and Connecticut.

Others ranked all season were Maryland, Oklahoma, Baylor, Stanford, Purdue, DePaul, Georgia, Arizona State, Michigan State, Temple and Minnesota. Vanderbilt was ranked in all but Monday's poll. New Mexico appeared in all but the preseason poll.

Oklahoma made the biggest jump during the season, starting at No. 25 and climbing to No. 7. Maryland finished with its No. 3 ranking after opening at No. 14.

Five teams in the preseason poll did not make the final rankings -- Texas (12), Texas Tech (13), Notre Dame (15), North Carolina State (23) and Southern California (24).


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE