Connecticut will begin the season the same way it has the past two, atop The Associated Press women’s basketball poll.
The Huskies, who have won a record 78 straight games, received 39 of the 40 first-place votes Friday from a national media panel. It’s the eighth time in school history UConn has held the top preseason ranking and 44th straight week that the school was No. 1. The streak dates to Feb. 18, 2008.
“I think when people see the success we’ve had in the past and that we have the best player I think it’s just natural to throw us in that spot,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Overlooking who we lost. But that’s the territory we live in. Comes with the program.”
Baylor received the other first-place vote and was second, with Stanford, Tennessee, and Xavier rounding out the first five. The Lady Bears will face Connecticut in an early test on Nov. 16.
UConn had been an unanimous choice in the poll for 35 straight weeks. It’s the first time since the second week of 2009 that UConn wasn’t the only pick at No. 1. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Paul Zeise picked Baylor to be No. 1.
“We aren’t voting on last year’s team, we are voting on this year’s team. And although UConn has the best player, they also have lost a lot of points, rebounds and assists and experience, and will have to rely on a lot of freshmen,” Zeise said. “At some point late in the year they might become the best team, but I can’t imagine they are now.”
Connecticut, which also was the preseason No. 1 in 1995, ’99, 2000, ’01, ’03, ’08, and ’09, opens Nov. 14 against Holy Cross. The Huskies only trail Tennessee’s 12 appearances at No. 1 in the preseason poll.
Baylor, which lost to Connecticut in the national semifinals last season, matched its highest ranking ever.
“After having done what we did last year in the playoffs it’s somewhat expected that people think we should be ranked that high,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “We’re still young, but welcome the ranking.”
Stanford, which was beaten by UConn in the title game last season, returns three starters.
Coach Pat Summitt has her entire Tennessee roster back from last season, when the Lady Vols won the SEC regular season and tournament championship before falling to Baylor in the NCAA tournament.
Xavier returns four starters from the team that finished fifth in the final poll last season and advanced to the regional final before losing to Stanford in the last few seconds.
“I think it’s great recognition for our players and the work we put in,” Musketeers coach Kevin McGuff said. “It’s important to keep it in perspective, we’ve got a ton of work to do.”
Duke, which was picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference, was sixth. Ohio State was seventh followed by Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. It’s Kentucky’s highest preseason ranking since 1982, when the Wildcats were eighth.
West Virginia is 11th, starting a run of four straight Big East teams. The Mountaineers, who return all five starters from last season, are followed by Notre Dame, Georgetown and St. John’s. The Hoyas are coming off one of the best seasons in school history. They are ranked in the preseason for the first time. The Red Storm’s ranking is the school’s best ever.
North Carolina was 15th followed by UCLA, Texas, Florida State, Georgia, and Iowa State.
Maryland, Iowa, TCU, Vanderbilt and Michigan State round out the poll.
The Tar Heels were one of five teams in the poll not ranked at the end of last season. The others are Maryland, Iowa, Vanderbilt, and TCU, which is ranked in the preseason for the second time ever.