Originally created 11/05/02

Duke starts season with first No. 1 ranking



Duke is returning all five starters from a Final Four team. No wonder it's starting the season at No. 1.

The Blue Devils were an overwhelming choice for the top spot in The Associated Press preseason women's basketball poll Monday, the team's first No. 1 ranking.

Duke's women never had been higher than third.

"We see it as a great honor," coach Gail Goestenkors said. "We understand it doesn't mean anything. It's the postseason ranking we're after. However, it shows how far our program has come and that it is well respected."

Duke received 38 of 44 first-place votes from a national media panel for a total of 1,093 points. Tennessee was second with 1,049 points, LSU third with 941, and defending national champion Connecticut fourth with 873.

Tennessee, which has led the preseason poll a record 10 times, received four first-place votes. LSU and Connecticut each had one.

At No. 3, LSU has its highest ranking since the Lady Tigers were second March 8, 1978. Fourth is the lowest for Connecticut since it was No. 4 in the final poll of the 1998-99 season.

Connecticut lost four senior starters from a team that went 39-0 and gave the school its third NCAA title. The Huskies had been No. 1 in 19 straight polls and 49 of the last 56.

Kansas State, which went 26-8 last season using freshmen and sophomores, was fifth, and Stanford was sixth. Texas Tech, Purdue, Georgia and Notre Dame completed the top 10.

Texas was 11th, and Vanderbilt 12th, followed by North Carolina, Penn State, Minnesota, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas, Cincinnati, Colorado State and Boston College.

George Washington, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Mississippi State and UC Santa Barbara held the final five spots.

Alana Beard, a first-team All-American as a sophomore last season, heads the returnees at Duke, which went 31-4 and earned its second Final Four trip despite having just eight players.

Seven of the eight return, and Goestenkors has added a touted recruiting class that includes high school All-Americans Brooke Smith, Mistie Bass and Lindsey Harding.

Goestenkors says without hesitation the Blue Devils' goal is the one thing they haven't accomplished in her tenure - winning the national championship.

"This team is very hungry to reach the very top," she said. "It was great for our young team last year to reach the Final Four, to have that experience and to understand what it takes to get there. Now we want to take it that next step and finish it off."

Duke became the 11th school to lead the preseason poll, which started in 1976. Fourteen teams ranked No. 1 at the start of the season finished on top. Eleven preseason No. 1 teams went on to win the national championship.

The Southeastern Conference, which had eight teams in the NCAA tournament last season, has a poll-high six. There are five teams from the Big 12, and three each from the Big Ten and Big East.

No. 9 Georgia and No. 10 Notre Dame are the highest-ranked teams that were not in last season's final poll. Others in the Top 25 who didn't make the final poll in March are Arkansas, George Washington, Mississippi State and UC Santa Barbara.

Old Dominion failed to make the preseason poll for the first time since 1995.