NEW YORK, NY – After a historic weekend that saw top-ranked Oregon and No. 2 Baylor lose on the same day, there are a few teams contending for No. 1 in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll.
There’s no question the Ducks and Lady Bears are both really good despite losing Saturday. Oregon was the preseason favorite to win the NCAA championship with most of its squad back from last season’s Final Four run. The hype surrounding the Ducks reached new levels after they stunned the U.S. national team in an exhibition game. They still are title contenders, but they showed some vulnerability this weekend.
Defending champion Baylor was missing All-America forward Lauren Cox, who has been out with a stress fracture in her right foot since the first week of the season, so it’s tough to know where they stand right now. Both Oregon and Baylor will almost assuredly drop in the new rankings Monday. Saturday marked only the third time since the AP women’s basketball Top 25 became a writer’s poll before the 1994-95 season that the top two teams were beaten on the same day, and the first time in the regular season. The previous occasions were in the 2011 Final Four and on March 7, 2007, when No. 1 Duke lost to N.C. State in the ACC Tournament semifinals and second-ranked Tennessee fell to LSU in the SEC Tournament semis.
So the question is, who will be No. 1 when the Top 25 poll is released Monday?
“This is the most wide-open I can remember it being in many years,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz told the AP in a phone interview from the airport in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where his team competed in the Paradise Jam tournament. “There are four teams in this tournament that could be in the mix and five or six more around the country.”
Louisville has a case to be No. 1. Eight teams came into the Paradise Jam undefeated and only the Cardinals left without a loss. They were eighth in the poll this week and knocked off the top-ranked Ducks. Not too bad for a team that lost three players to the WNBA draft last spring, including No. 2 pick Asia Durr.
Walz said he learned a lot about his squad in the three-game tournament.
“I wasn’t sure if we had the ability to defend at a high level and truly follow a team-specific scout,” he said. “After this week, three games in three days, this group showed me they can do it. We still have a long way to go to get to where some of our teams have been in the past defensively, but I believe they can get there.”
The win over Oregon was the first this season against a ranked team for Louisville, which has never been No. 1.
Baylor lost to No. 5 South Carolina in the same tournament, opening the door for third-ranked Stanford, which could lay claim to the top spot for the first time since the 2012-13 season. The Cardinal beat No. 10 Mississippi State on Saturday night in the final of a tournament in Canada. Stanford also has wins over Top 25 teams Gonzaga and Syracuse. On the other hand, the Cardinal played close games against California Baptist and Buffalo, which is no surprise for a young team.
If they do earn that top spot, coach Tara VanDerveer’s players will have a lot of time to think about it. The Cardinal don’t play again until Dec. 15 because of exams.
"We've had a real good start," the Hall of Fame coach said. "I think, maybe, it would be a positive thing in terms of motivating our team to continue to work hard and get better. You hope that it wouldn't have people be complacent."
VanDerveer knows there is already “a pretty big target on (Stanford’s) back” because of its ranking and storied history.
"I don't know that it would change much, honestly," she said. “I just go with the flow. Whatever people vote, I just go with it. I'm just trying to focus on our team — and not the periphery stuff."
The Cardinal had a six-week run at No. 1 after knocking off then-No. 1 Baylor in the Rainbow Wahine Classic in November 2012. The Cardinal were fourth the week before and jumped up to first.
Another Pac-12 team could have a shot at the top spot. Seventh-ranked Oregon State has an impressive resume. The Beavers have beaten two ranked teams in DePaul and Miami as well as a very talented Missouri State squad by an average of 18 points. The win over the Hurricanes came on the road this weekend.
“My definition of parity this year is this: The team that wins their regular season title may be different than the team that wins the conference tournament title and might be different from the Final Four representative in numerous leagues because of the depth,” said TV commentator Deb Antonelli, who has voted in the AP poll for over a decade. “This is the first time I have the feeling that the national title is truly anyone’s to win. More teams can win than ever in the history of the game and that’s exciting for the fans.”
AP freelance writer Monte Stewart contributed to this report.
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