Duke controls top spot after crushing Maryland

Updated: January 16, 2007, 4:31 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Duke found its way to No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today women's basketball poll.

Poll Positions
The top five teams in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Complete ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.

The Blue Devils jumped over North Carolina to replace Maryland at the top of the poll Monday, two days after beating the Terrapins 81-62 with an impressive display of balance and defense. North Carolina remained second and Maryland, which had been No. 1, slipped to third.

There also were changes at the bottom, with Texas (13-4) joining at 24th and DePaul dropping out.

Duke began the season with some questions after losing second-team All-American Monique Currie and two others to the WNBA draft. The Blue Devils lost to Maryland in overtime in the national championship game last season.

The Blue Devils also are without 6-foot-5 junior Chante Black, who has yet to play this season because of a hyperextended right knee.

So to be 18-0 and ranked No. 1 -- yes, coach Gail Goestenkors is surprised.

"We knew our players had to adjust to new roles," Goestenkors said. "Our role players had to become go-to players. I'm impressed how quickly they've adjusted to their new roles and embraced their new roles."

They've adjusted so well that Duke has defeated six Top 25 teams. The closest game in that bunch was a nine-point win over Bowling Green, now ranked 17th.

"I was worried a little early on with our nonconference schedule, knowing it was difficult and then how tough the ACC was going to be," Goestenkors said. "We knew we were young and searching for a new identity and thought we might hit some bumps along the way. This team has really responded to every challenge it faced."

The Blue Devils certainly have responded on the defensive end. They're giving up just 46.8 points a game and holding opponents to 30 percent shooting. Maryland is the only team that has scored more than 54 points on Duke.

Guard Lindsey Harding, the ACC defensive player of the year last season, sets the tone with her quickness. Harding and the other perimeter players can gamble because they have 6-7 Alison Bales lurking near the basket. Bales already has blocked 87 shots.

"It probably took a year for our guards to understand that they can get out and pressure a little more because Allie has their back," Goestenkors said. "This year we've become a lot more comfortable getting out and pressuring people and changing defenses."

Duke received 22 of 31 first-place votes from a panel of Division I head coaches and had 764 points -- 12 more than North Carolina. North Carolina (20-0), which beat previously unbeaten Connecticut Monday night, had the remaining 9 first-place votes.

The Blue Devils were also No. 1 in The Associated Press poll.

Maryland (18-1) had 705 points, 12 more than No. 4 Tennessee (16-1), which hosts Duke next Monday. Connecticut was fifth, followed by Oklahoma, Ohio State, LSU, Stanford and Arizona State.

LSU dropped two spots after splitting two games, losing to Mississippi and beating Mississippi State. Oklahoma and Ohio State each advanced one spot while UConn stayed put.

Vanderbilt jumped to No. 11, followed by Baylor, which fell three spots to No. 12 -- the biggest drop in the poll after losing to Oklahoma and Texas A&M. George Washington and Purdue switched spots, with the Colonials climbing one place to 13th and Purdue dropping back to 14th. Then it was Louisville, followed by Georgia, Bowling Green, Texas A&M, Marquette and Middle Tennessee.

Michigan State, California, TCU, Texas, and Pittsburgh held the final five places.

DePaul (11-6), which was 24th last week, has seen its roster thinned by injuries. The Blue Demons have lost three straight and five of six.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.