Northwestern’s long drought outside of the Top 25 has finally come to an end.
The Wildcats are back in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll for the first time in 19 years after entering the rankings at No. 25 on Monday.
”It’s good to be relevant again,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. ”To be in the position we’re in is awesome. The way we got here, winning seven straight Big Ten games, including two in overtime and one at the buzzer against Michigan. We’ve had crazy finishes. They are calling us the Cardiac Cats now.”
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The Wildcats (21-6) have won 20 games for the first time since they were last ranked in 1995-96. They are currently in a tie for third place in the Big Ten and have a busy week ahead with games against No. 20 Rutgers and fifth-ranked Maryland.
If they can finish in the top four in the conference they’d earn a key double-bye into the quarterfinals.
”It would be great to have that double bye,” McKeown said. ”This is probably the deepest league in the country and that would be great. We’ll see how those things work out.”
Northwestern has been on the way up since McKeown took over the program in 2008. He went 7-23 in his first season, but has won double-digit games since, including making the postseason WNIT in three seasons.
”My third year here we beat LSU and we were 26th in the poll,” he said. ”We’ve been pretty close to breaking in.”
Now he hopes to get the Wildcats into the NCAA tournament, ending an 18-year drought. And as chance would have it, the last time Northwestern made the NCAAs in 1997 the school lost to coach McKeown and George Washington in the first round.
”It’s really surreal when you look at it,” McKeown said. ”We had a great team that got to the final eight at GW. We beat North Carolina and beat Northwestern in first round. Now to coach Northwestern and we got a chance to get to the tournament. It’s a weird connect the dots like thing.”
While Northwestern entered the Top 25 for the first time in a while, the top of the poll remained constant. UConn’s still No. 1 for the second straight week.
The Huskies were followed by South Carolina, Baylor, Notre Dame and Maryland. Tennessee, Oregon State, Louisville, Florida State and Arizona State round out the first 10 teams.
It’s a busy Monday night with six of the top eight teams in the poll playing. Connecticut, which is winning its conference games by an average of 49 points, visits Tulane on Monday night.
South Carolina hosts Tennessee and Louisville visits Notre Dame in the two marquee games.
The Gamecocks also host No. 11 Mississippi State on Thursday before visiting No. 13 Kentucky on Sunday.
UNBEATEN: No. 14 Princeton remained the lone unbeaten team in women’s basketball after beating Dartmouth and Harvard. The Tigers host Yale and Brown this weekend. Princeton’s closest Ivy League contest this season was a six-point win over Yale.
MOVING ON UP: At No. 18, Chattanooga reached its best ranking ever. The Mocs were No. 19 for three weeks in 1984 and 20th in the final poll that season after losing to Vanderbilt in the WNIT.
UPCOMING MATCHUPS: Monday isn’t the only day this week with good games. Oregon State will try and clinch the outright Pac-12 title when it hosts Stanford on Thursday. Duke and North Carolina will face each other Sunday.
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