Lady Vols' poll lead narrows; LSU loses ground

Duke chopped a couple points off Tennessee's lead and North Carolina bumped LSU from the No. 3 spot it had held all season in The AP women's basketball poll.

Tennessee was No. 1 for the eighth straight week heading into Monday night's showdown against the second-ranked Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the 39th meeting between the top two teams in the poll.

It was the first of two huge games this week for Duke, which hosts North Carolina on Sunday.

Tennessee received 36 of 46 first-place votes from a national media panel and had 1,140 points -- 28 more than Duke. Duke, which got the 10 other first-place votes, trailed by 30 points last week.

The game between the two leaders prompted panel member Mike Carmin of the Lafayette, Ind., Journal and Courier two switch his vote for No. 1 from Tennessee to Duke.

"I was taking a shot on Duke winning," said Carmin, who had Tennessee No. 1 in the first 10 polls. "That was all my thinking."

LSU slipped from third to fourth after losing for the first time this season, 51-48 at Connecticut a week ago. The Lady Tigers bounced back quickly to beat Alabama and Georgia.

North Carolina's move to third made the Tar Heels the first team other than Tennessee, Duke and LSU to hold one of the top three spots in this season's poll.

Southern Cal returned to the poll after an eight-week absence at No. 23, while Florida made its first appearance of the season at No. 24. Boston College and George Washington dropped out.

Tennessee tuned up for its game at Duke by beating then-No. 19 Vanderbilt 80-68 to give coach Pat Summitt her 900th victory. Summitt should hit another milestone next month. With four more appearances in the poll, Summitt and the Lady Vols will reach 500. Tennessee has been unranked only 14 times since the poll started in 1976.

Connecticut remained fifth, only two points behind LSU, Maryland held at No. 6 and Ohio State stayed at No. 7. Purdue jumped three places to eighth, the Boilermakers' first appearance in the Top 10 this season, while No. 9 Baylor and No. 10 Rutgers each dropped one place.

Baylor beat Texas A&M but lost to Oklahoma. Rutgers lost to Temple and beat Louisville.

Stanford jumped three places to 11th, DePaul fell two spots to 12th after losing at Notre Dame and Oklahoma jumped from 17th to 13th. Then it was Minnesota, Georgia and Michigan State, followed by Temple, New Mexico, Arizona State and BYU.

Temple jumped four places to 17th, while Arizona State tumbled four spots to 19th after road losses to Stanford and Cal. The Sun Devils have lost four of six since matching their highest ranking ever at No. 9 on Jan. 2.

The final five were BYU, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Southern Cal, Florida and Virginia Tech.

Southern Cal (13-5) returns to the rankings after a five-game winning streak, including victories over Arizona State and Washington. The Women of Troy were 24th in the first two polls this season, then dropped out after consecutive losses to Long Beach
State and Notre Dame.

Florida (15-3) made the poll for the first time since the week of Feb. 9, 2004.

The Gators started 13-1 despite losing four starters from last season and then lost back-to-back games to Georgia and Kentucky. They rebounded with wins over Mississippi and Vanderbilt last week and will get another shot at Georgia, this time at home, next Sunday.

Voter Mel Greenberg of the Philadelphia Inquirer saw Florida win at Temple in early December and has had the Gators in and out of his Top 25 all season. He put them 19th this week.

"You knew you had to make some changes in those bottom positions because of some losses," Greenberg said. "At that point, you almost run a mini-poll and measure a team against all those others you're considering for the final five or six spots. Florida's total body of work was enough to get them in there."

Boston College, which was 22nd and had been ranked for five weeks, dropped out after losing at Miami. George Washington lasted only one week after joining at No. 25, its first appearance in the poll since the end of the 2002-03 season. The Colonials beat Rhode Island but lost to UMass.