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Air Force, Notre Dame Enter Top 25 Poll

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Air Force hopes its appearance in The Associated Press' Top 25 lasts longer than its previous one. The Falcons _ along with Notre Dame and Oregon _ moved into the rankings Monday for the first time this season.

The only other time Air Force made the rankings was in the poll of March 9, 2004. The Falcons were gone the next week after losing to Colorado State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament.

``It's nothing we aimed for,'' said second-year coach Jeff Bzedlik, the former head man of the NBA's Denver Nuggets. ``The most important thing to us is now that we're in it is to stay in it.

``I'd be lying if I said we weren't excited. We are. The most important thing is to get better and continue to stay in. Consistency is the key.''

The Falcons (10-1), who have won six straight since losing to Duke in the CBE Classic semifinals, moved in at No. 24.

UCLA and Pittsburgh held the top two spots in the poll for the third straight week, and North Carolina stayed No. 3 from last week's voting. Ohio State moved up one spot to No. 4, while Florida and Duke, tied for seventh last week, were fifth and sixth, respectively.

Air Force has had early success away from home, registering road wins over Stanford and Colorado and beating Long Beach State and Texas Tech on neutral courts. The Falcons handed Wake Forest its first loss of the season in a rare home game.

``Six of our first eight games were outside Clune Arena and that was by design,'' Bzedlik said. ``We knew we couldn't get big schools to come into Clune, so we had to go find them if not for any other reason than to see where we stood against the bigger schools.''

The wins over Stanford and Colorado were by 34 and 38 points, respectively, while the Falcons beat Wake Forest 94-58.

Air Force, which starts four seniors and a junior, have five players averaging between 11 and 14.5 points per game. The starters have been part of the teams that went to the NCAA tournament in 2004, under former coach Joe Scott, and 2006, Bzedlik's first season.

``Experience helps tremendously,'' Bzedlik said.

So does the support the team has received from those in Clune Arena and from Air Force personnel around the world.

``Season-ticket sales have improved almost 30 percent since last year,'' Bzedlik said. ``The military community is a family oriented, close-knit group with all the branches so when there's success on the athletic field for one of the academies, everyone embraces that.''

UCLA (8-0), which beat Cal State-Fullerton and Texas A&M last week, received 58 first-place votes and 1,786 points from the 72-member national media panel. Pittsburgh (10-0), which beat Duquesne and Buffalo last week, was No. 1 on 11 ballots and had 1,707 points.

North Carolina (7-1) received one first-place vote and Ohio State (8-1) had two.

Wisconsin jumped from 11th to No. 7 and was followed by Wichita State, Alabama and Arizona.

Wichita State's ranking is its highest since being No. 2 on Dec. 29, 1981. Alabama, which lost 99-85 at Notre Dame, dropped from fourth to ninth.

Kansas was 11th, followed by LSU, Texas A&M, Connecticut, Oklahoma State, Gonzaga, Washington, Butler, Memphis and Marquette.

The last five ranked teams were Notre Dame, Oregon, Syracuse, Air Force and Nevada.

Notre Dame (7-1) comes in having won two in a row over ranked teams _ then-No. 23 Maryland in the BB&T Classic and the win over Alabama. The Fighting Irish were last ranked on Nov. 30, 2004.

Oregon (7-0) is in the poll for the first time since Jan. 28, 2003. The Ducks beat Nebraska 68-56 on Saturday after road wins over Rice and Georgetown.

The last three teams in last week's Top 25 all fell out after losing Saturday.

Maryland (9-2) dropped from 23rd after losing 73-62 to Boston College. Xavier (7-2) fell out after a one-week appearance following a 73-67 loss at Creighton. Georgia Tech (6-3), which was ranked since the preseason poll, fell out from 25th after a 73-64 loss at Vanderbilt.
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