Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies will begin the season the same way they ended the last one – atop The Associated Press women’s basketball poll.
Connecticut received all 35 votes Thursday marking the 10th time that the Huskies are the top team in the preseason. Six of those years UConn went on to win the national championship.
”A lot of rankings are based on what you did last year and what you have coming back,” Auriemma said. ”It’s nice when people are talking about your program and we like that feeling.”
UConn has won its last 46 games, including going 40-0 en route to a ninth national championship last April. The Huskies are led by sensational junior Breanna Stewart, the two-time most outstanding player of the Final Four. She was the only college player on the U.S. national team that won a gold medal at the world championship earlier this month.
Connecticut, which also was the preseason No. 1 in 1995, `99, 2000, `01, `03, `08, `09, `10 and `13 opens Nov. 14 at UC Davis before visiting No. 6 Stanford three days later. The Huskies only trail Tennessee’s 12 appearances at No. 1 in the preseason poll.
South Carolina was second in the poll – it’s best ranking since Jan. 3, 1982. The Gamecocks haven’t ever been ranked this high in the preseason. Expectations are high for Dawn Staley’s team, which advanced to the Sweet 16 last season and won its first SEC title. The team returns SEC player of the year Tiffany Mitchell and league freshman of the year in Alaina Coates as well as a talented freshman class.
”It’s unchartered waters for us,” Staley said. ”It means that our program has done something over the course of the past few years to get ranked as high as we are. It brings in a whole lot of pressure, some anticipated, some not. For us, we knew coming up people would have high expectations for ourselves.”
Notre Dame is third. The Irish were unbeaten last season until losing to the Huskies in the national championship game. Muffet McGraw’s team graduated Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa, but still have Jewell Loyd.
Tennessee is fourth and Texas A&M rounds out the first five teams. It’s the Aggies best preseason ranking in school history. Stanford, Duke, Baylor, Texas and Maryland finish off the first 10.
Kentucky is 11th followed by Louisville, North Carolina, Michigan State and California. Nebraska, West Virginia, DePaul, Iowa and Oregon State are next. The Beavers earned their first ranking since the final poll in 1996. They return all five starters from last season’s team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.
”It’s great to get some national recognition,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. ”We are coming off a great year and we got to do something we’ve never done before. I know the kids will see the ranking plastered everywhere but I know we’ll be grounded. It will just give us a little bigger target on us this year.”
Oklahoma State, Dayton, UCLA, Rutgers and Syracuse round out the poll.
The ACC and Big Ten lead the way with five teams in the poll. The Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC each have four.
The Longhorns were one of six teams not ranked at the end of last season. The others are Iowa, Oregon State, Dayton, UCLA, Rutgers and Syracuse.
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