Duke Women Unanimous No. 1 After Beating Tar Heels

Monday, February 12th 2007, 1:31 pm
By: News On 6

Duke's latest victory over a highly ranked team has convinced everyone now.

The Blue Devils were unanimous at No. 1 in the AP women's basketball poll on Monday, receiving all 49 first-place votes from a national media panel.

Duke (26-0) emerged as the only unbeaten team in Division I after its 64-53 victory at No. 2 North Carolina last week. The Blue Devils followed that win with a 77-45 victory over Wake Forest and topped the poll for the fifth straight week, their second-longest run at No. 1.

They led the first 12 polls of the 2002-03 season.

Duke, which had been splitting the first-place votes with North Carolina, also defeated Maryland when the Terrapins were ranked No. 1, won at No. 3 Tennessee and beat five other teams that were ranked at the time.

``Every challenge that we faced, they seem to rise to the occasion and find a way to win,'' Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. ``The great thing about this team is that different players have been able to step up. In years past, it seemed like we were relying on one or two players.''

While point guard Lindsey Harding is the Blue Devils' key player, they've also had major contributions from Abby Waner, Wanisha Smith, Allison Bales and Carrem Gay.

``That gives them a level of confidence and calmness to know that it's not all on one person,'' Goestenkors said. ``If somebody is not having a great night offensively, someone else can step up and they can rely on their team defense to carry them.''

North Carolina (24-1) remained second, but its lead over No. 3 Tennessee (23-2) shrank to 26 points. The Tar Heels had a 73-point lead last week, when they received eight first-place votes.

The only change in the top 10 was at No. 9, where Stanford switched places with No. 11 Georgia. Michigan State was the lone newcomer in the poll, returning at No. 24 after a two-week absence.

Ohio State remained fourth and Connecticut held at No. 5 after ending LSU's 43-game home winning streak with a 72-71 victory on Sunday. Maryland was sixth, followed by LSU, George Washington, Stanford and Arizona State.

Georgia dropped to 11th after going 2-1 last week, losing at Tennessee and beating Alabama and South Carolina. Vanderbilt climbed two spots to 12th and Texas A&M jumped three places to 13th after beating then-No. 12 Oklahoma.

Oklahoma, which has lost three of its last four, fell to 14th and was followed by Baylor, Purdue, Middle Tennessee, Bowling Green, Nebraska and Louisville.

Marquette, California, Rutgers, Michigan State and James Madison completed the Top 25.

James Madison edged Wisconsin-Green Bay by two points for the final spot. Wisconsin-Green Bay, which had been 24th, dropped out despite beating Wisconsin-Milwaukee in its only game last week.

Michigan State slipped back into the poll after a 54-52 victory at Purdue. The Spartans have won four straight since consecutive losses at Penn State and Rutgers in late January knocked them out of the Top 25.

The loss to Michigan State dropped Purdue three places to 16th. That was one of three games last week in which a Top 25 team lost to an unranked opponent. Louisville lost at Notre Dame and fell three spots to 20th, while California dropped two places to 22nd after losing at home to Washington.

Duke hasn't taken much time to celebrate its big victories because the Blue Devils still have too many challenging games left. They travel to Maryland next Sunday and finish the regular season at home on Feb. 25 against North Carolina. The Blue Devils might have to see both teams again in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

``We've been in this position before,'' Goestenkors said. ``It's not something we talk about at all and dwell on because we know what a tough stretch we have ahead.''

Michigan State plays at Ohio State next Sunday. Louisville also has a challenging week, playing at Connecticut on Tuesday and at Marquette on Saturday.