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Arizona opens season at number one

Updated:
Arizona, with all five starters back from a team that was a top seed in the NCAA tournament, edged Duke on Monday as the No. 1 team in The Associated Press college basketball poll.

The Wildcats, who were the preseason No. 1 in 1997 after they won the national championship, had a sizable lead in first-place votes from the national media panel, but finished with just four more points than the Blue Devils.

``This one has fewer question marks than probably any team that we've had,'' Arizona coach Lute Olson said of the group that features the sophomore backcourt of Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas and junior forwards Richard Jefferson and Michael Wright.

Senior center Loren Woods, who missed the end of last season with a back injury, has been impressive returning from off-season surgery.

``We've got everything,'' Gardner said. ``We've got an inside game. We've got an outside game. We've got quickness. We've got strength. It's going to be hard for anybody to match up with us.''

Arizona, which finished 25-7 last season and lost to Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA tournament, had 37 first-place votes and 1,753 points.

Duke, which has four starters back from the team that was No. 1 in the final poll and lost in the round of 16, was first on 29 ballots, and its 1,749 points were 260 more than defending national champion Michigan State.

The Spartans, who lost three starters from the team that won it all, received five first-place votes and was just two points in front of Stanford.

Maryland received the other first-place vote and was followed in the Top Ten by North Carolina, Kansas, Illinois, Tennessee and Seton Hall.

Florida, which lost to Michigan State in the championship game, was 11th, followed by No. 12 Kentucky, No. 13 Utah, No. 14 Connecticut, and Arkansas and Notre Dame, which tied for 15th.

UCLA was 17th, followed by Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Wake Forest, DePaul, Oklahoma, Southern California, Virginia and Iowa State.

The big conferences dominated the voting with eight leagues supplying all 25 teams. Six conferences had at least three teams each with the Atlantic Coast Conference's five _ Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Virginia _ leading the way.

Last year's preseason No. 1 was Connecticut, while Michigan State was third in the opening poll. The only teams to be ranked in the Top Ten all last season were Arizona, which got as high as No. 2, and Cincinnati, which was No. 1 for 12 weeks.

Four of the schools in this year's poll weren't ranked at any point last season.

Arkansas and Wisconsin were both in the Top 25 during the 1998-99 season, while Virginia was last ranked on Dec. 2, 1996.

Notre Dame was out of the rankings the longest. The last time the Fighting Irish were in the Top 25 was the first regular-season poll of 1989-90.

Arizona continues the longest run of Top 25 appearances, having been in each one since the preseason vote of 1995-96 _ 90 consecutive polls. Stanford and Duke are tied for second at 73, a run that started with the preseason poll of 1996-97.
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