Tennessee stays No. 1 after close call

Monday, February 2nd 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Tennessee survived a close call to keep a wide lead at the top of The Associated Press women's basketball poll.

The Lady Vols led the poll for the second straight week on Monday, but needed a late surge in their last game to stay there. They scored the final six points of regulation to force overtime in beating Auburn 68-61 Sunday.

Tennessee (18-1) received 44 of 47 first-place votes from a national media panel and had 1,172 points _ 66 more than No. 2 Duke (16-2). Texas (19-2) remained third with three first-place votes and 1,083 points.

While the top six stayed the same, Notre Dame, Florida and Southwest Missouri State moved into the Top 25 at the bottom. It was the first appearance of the season for Florida and Southwest Missouri State.

Oklahoma, Vanderbilt and Nebraska dropped out.

Tennessee will defend its No. 1 ranking against perennial nemesis Connecticut in Knoxville on Thursday night. The fourth-ranked Huskies have defeated Tennessee four straight times, including a 73-68 victory in last year's national championship game.

Penn State was fifth and Purdue was sixth, with Stanford, Louisiana Tech, Texas Tech and Kansas State completing the top 10. Texas Tech dropped two places after an 82-73 loss at Texas. Stanford and Louisiana Tech each moved up one spot. Kansas State climbed two places.

Colorado stayed at No. 11 and North Carolina dropped two spots to 12th. Then it was Minnesota, LSU, DePaul and Georgia, followed by Baylor, TCU, Auburn and Michigan State.

Virginia Tech, Miami, Notre Dame, Florida and Southwest Missouri State held the final five places.

Georgia, TCU and Auburn each moved up three places for the biggest jump within the poll. Miami fell five spots to 22nd after losing twice, to Notre Dame and Rutgers. DePaul dropped two spots to 15th after being held 22 points below its nation-leading scoring average in a 74-70 loss to Charlotte.

Notre Dame (13-7), ranked in the first three polls of the season, has the most losses in the Top 25. But the Irish have defeated five teams that were ranked at the time, including Connecticut. Four of their losses were to teams currently in the Top 25.

Florida (15-5) has won five of its last six to continue an impressive turnaround from last season's 9-19 record. The Gators have defeated Vanderbilt twice, won at Georgia and beat UC Santa Barbara when the Gauchos were ranked 15th.

Florida was last ranked in the 2001-02 season, when it was 24th in the final poll.

Southwest Missouri State (18-1) has ridden a 16-game winning streak, the nation's longest, to its first national ranking since Jackie Stiles led the Lady Bears to the Final Four in 2001. They were 15th in the final poll that year.

Oklahoma (13-6), 20th last week, dropped out after losses to Missouri and Kansas State extended the Sooners' losing streak to four. OU had been ranked all season, reaching as high as 13th the week of Dec. 15.

Vanderbilt (16-4) returned to the poll just last week at No. 24 and split its two games, beating Arkansas and losing to Florida. Nebraska, which had been 25th, lost to Texas and Baylor after joining the poll for the first time since November 1999.