By DOUG FEINBERG, AP Basketball Writer
Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies are back in a familiar place– No. 1 in the poll.
Connecticut received all 36 votes Friday in The Associated Press’ women’s basketball poll marking the ninth time that the Huskies are the top team in the preseason. Five of those years UConn went on to win the national championship.
“I don’t know that being preseason No. 1 necessarily gets you anything except some attention,” Auriemma said. “But it’s always nice when people want to talk about your players and program. We like that feeling.”
UConn has most of its team back from last season’s national championship run led by sophomore sensation Breanna Stewart, who won most outstanding player of the Final Four honors in April.
Connecticut, which also was the preseason No. 1 in 1995, `99, 2000, `01, `03, `08, `09, and `10 opens Nov. 9 against Hartford before facing No. 3 Stanford two days later. The Huskies only trail Tennessee’s 12 appearances at No. 1 in the preseason poll.
Duke was second in the poll– it’s best ranking since the Blue Devils finished at No. 1 in the final poll of 2007. They haven’t been this highly ranked in the preseason since it was No. 1 in the 2005 opening poll.
The Blue Devils are led by talented guard Chelsea Grey, who is working her way back from a dislocated kneecap in February that ended her season.
Stanford, led by senior Chiney Ogwumike, was third followed by Tennessee.
Holly Warlick has the Lady Vols back in their customary spot in the Top 10 in the preseason. Last year they were picked 20th in the first poll– their lowest preseason ranking since they missed the first poll ever in 1976-77. Tennessee had only been out of the Top 10 in the preseason one other time and that was in 1984-85.
Louisville matched its best ranking ever at No. 5. The Cardinals, who were also No. 5 in 2009, return four starters from last season’s team that shocked the women’s basketball landscape by knocking off Baylor in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals before falling to UConn in the title game.
“I’ve never been one that’s been about where you start, I’m more concerned where we finish,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “It’s an honor and shows what we’ve been able to do here in our six years. I think we’ve laid a very good foundation and we’re not just a team that’s had one good year, we’re a program. We’re a program that’s here to stay and compete for years to come.”
The Cardinals will play one season in the new American Athletic Conference before bolting to the ACC next season. Their former Big East foe Notre Dame was sixth in the poll. The Irish made the move to the ACC this season.
Kentucky, Maryland, California and Baylor rounded out the first 10. The Lady Bears were No. 1 the preseason the last two years. Baylor wasn’t picked to even win the Big 12 this season with star Brittney Griner and four other seniors graduating.
That honor went to Oklahoma, which is No. 11 in the poll. The Sooners are followed by North Carolina, Penn State, Dayton and LSU. Dayton, which was ranked for 18 weeks last season, makes it first appearance ever in a preseason poll. Expectations are high for the Flyers after going 28-3 last season and returning four starters.
Texas A&M, Nebraska, Purdue, Colorado and Michigan State are the next five. It’s the Buffaloes’ first preseason ranking in a decade.
Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Iowa State, Georgia and Gonzaga round out the poll.
The Sooners were one of five teams in the poll not ranked at the end of last season. The others were LSU, Michigan State, Oklahoma State and Gonzaga.
The SEC has six teams in the Top 25 with the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten each having four.
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