Still unbeaten, Princeton enters AP women’s basketball poll

Courtney Banghart knew that this Princeton team could be special.

They just have that ”hate to lose” attitude. So far the Tigers haven’t experienced a loss yet, moving to 16-0 after Monday night’s 75-63 win at Hampton.

Earlier in the day, Princeton moved into The Associated Press poll for only the second time in school history. The Tigers earned the first-ever ranking for an Ivy League team in the final poll of the 2012 season.

”They are two entirely different teams and for it to happen twice in non-consecutive years is what I’m most proud of,” Banghart said. ”This is a group that cares about the right things.”

Princeton is one of four unbeatens left in women’s basketball. Top-ranked South Carolina, No. 3 Texas and 14th-ranked Mississippi State are the only other teams not to lose a game yet this season. All three have been in the poll for weeks.

Now Princeton has joined the Top 25, entering at No. 22.

”You see 16-0 and it’s like whoa, it’s really good,” Banghart said. ”Did I expect it? No. The way we scheduled, we have had four home games. It’s a likable group, but that’s not always your toughest groups.”

Next up for the Tigers is rival Penn on Saturday to open Ivy League play.

The Tigers weren’t the only team to join the Top 25 this week. Western Kentucky returned to the poll for the first time since 1998, coming in at No. 25. Minnesota entered at No. 23, the Gophers’ first ranking since 2006.

While there was a lot of change at the bottom of the poll, the top remained mostly the same. South Carolina was No. 1 for the seventh straight week. The Gamecocks opened up SEC play with victories over Auburn and LSU. Dawn Staley’s team was followed by UConn, Texas, Notre Dame and Baylor.

Some notes from this week’s poll:

BACKING UP BOAST: Michelle Clark-Heard said when she was hired at Western Kentucky that there was room for three ranked teams in the state. It only took three seasons for Clark-Heard to make that happen. It’s the first time that they are ranked since 1998.

”It’s an awesome day for our program,” the coach said. ”It gives me chills when you say that we’re ranked. It’s a great day for everyone that’s ever tied their shoe here or had to do with WKU in the past.”

Clark-Heard returned to her alma mater in 2012 and helped them reach the NCAA tournament last season. Now she has them ranked.

UNBEATENS: South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi State and Princeton are the lone remaining unbeaten teams in women’s basketball. On the other end of the spectrum, UC Santa Barbara and Illinois State are the two winless programs.

WELCOME BACK: Minnesota earned its first ranking since March 13, 2006. They have started Big Ten play at 3-0 for the first time since 2005-06 and have won 10 straight games. Marlene Stollings’ 14-1 record to begin her first season at the helm of the Minnesota program ties for the best start to a season by a Gophers first-year head coach, while she is the only first-year head coach at Minnesota to post three-straight wins to open Big Ten play.

POWER SHIFT: With Duke falling back out of the Top 10, this marks the first week since March 6, 2000, that neither Duke (13th) or Stanford (15th) is among first 10 in the poll. Talk about consistency, those two teams have been on some run over the last 15 years.

UPCOMING MATCHUPS: The new year brings many exciting SEC conference matchups this week beginning with Tennessee at Vanderbilt on Monday night. The seventh-ranked Lady Vols then host No. 9 Texas A&M on Thursday. The week finishes off with No. 10 Kentucky visiting No. 1 South Carolina. Other big conference games outside the SEC include No. 21 Syracuse visiting No. 13 Duke on Thursday and No. 12 Maryland at Minnesota on Sunday.

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