Duke No Longer Unanimous No. 1 Choice

Monday, February 26th 2007, 2:46 pm
By: News On 6

A season of success for Duke has been one filled with emotion for North Carolina State.

Duke led the AP women's basketball poll for the seventh straight week Monday, though the Blue Devils lost a first-place vote, while NC State joined at No. 24, the latest accomplishment for a team inspired by coach Kay Yow's battle with cancer.

The Blue Devils (29-0) received 49 of 50 first-place votes from a national media panel after defeating fourth-ranked North Carolina for the second time in three weeks and becoming the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to go unbeaten in the regular season.

Duke's 1,249 points in the voting were 49 more than No. 2 Tennessee, which received the other first-place vote.

North Carolina State earned its first national ranking in more than a year and was one of two newcomers in the poll. The Wolfpack (21-8) have gone 8-1 since Yow returned to the bench after taking two months off for a new round of cancer treatment.

Their run included a victory over North Carolina on the night the court at Reynolds Coliseum was named in Yow's honor.

``I think it says a lot about who they are as people, about their character,'' Yow said of her players. ``They've really had to dig deep. They can see I'm not like myself before this happened. I still have some really good days and some days that aren't so good.

``I know they can tell the difference. But I think they know I'm going to persevere and hang in there the best I can and together, we sort of find a way to get it done.''

The Wolfpack players have often said their coach's fight has inspired them. Yow said her team's improved health also has been a factor in the recent victories.

Center Gillian Goring had back surgery during the preseason, while guard Ashley Key had knee surgery. Both had to ease their way back. Forward Marquetta Dickens missed time with a concussion.

``I think they've played really strong down the stretch,'' Yow said. ``I think they've had some other strong games here and there throughout the season. We just haven't had everybody healthy until now.''

No. 25 California was the other newcomer, returning after a one-week absence. The Bears (22-7) had been ranked all season before falling out last week.

James Madison and Nebraska dropped out.

Duke closed out the regular season with a 67-62 victory over North Carolina on Sunday. The Blue Devils had been unanimous the two previous weeks, but Martin Renzhofer of the Salt Lake Tribune switched his vote for No. 1 to Tennessee (27-2), which beat LSU, Arkansas and Vanderbilt last week and has won 10 straight since a Jan. 22 loss to Duke.

``I understand Duke didn't lose, but the teams that Tennessee beat and the way they won, I just feel they're coming on,'' Renzhofer said.

The top six in the poll stayed the same. Connecticut was third, followed by North Carolina, Ohio State and Maryland. Stanford, George Washington, Arizona State and Georgia completed the Top 10, each moving up one spot.

Losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt dropped LSU from seventh to 11th, only the second time this season the Lady Tigers have been out of the Top 10. They bounced back from those losses to rout Alabama 70-27 on Sunday.

No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 13 Vanderbilt traded places from last week. Texas A&M jumped two spots to 14th after winning at Baylor and was followed by Purdue, Baylor, Middle Tennessee, Rutgers, Bowling Green and Louisville.

Wisconsin-Green Bay, Michigan State, Marquette, North Carolina State and Cal held the final five places.

North Carolina State, with assistant coach Stephanie Glance running the team, went 10-6 while Yow took time off after doctors found the cancer that had recurred two years ago was progressing. She first was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987.

The Wolfpack were just 2-4 in the ACC when Yow returned, but their only loss since then was at Georgia Tech, 69-62, and they ended up tying for third in the league at 10-4.

``It was a lift for me to return,'' Yow said. ``I hope it was an inspiration and a lift for them.''

The Wolfpack had last appeared in the poll the week of Jan. 30, 2006, when they were 24th.

California had dropped out after a 20-point loss at Oregon, but the Bears beat Southern Cal and UCLA last week to finish third in the Pac-10 behind Stanford and Arizona State.

James Madison, which was 22nd last week, had a 16-game winning streak broken in a loss at Delaware, then lost at Old Dominion. The Dukes spent four weeks in the Top 25, their first national ranking in 19 years.

Nebraska's losing streak reached four with losses at Iowa State and Oklahoma State. The Cornhuskers, who had been 25th, were ranked for five weeks.