South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has found a way for her team to avoid early-season upsets despite losing all five starters from last year's Final Four squad.
The Gamecocks remained the unanimous choice at No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 women's basketball poll on Monday, receiving all 36 first-place votes from a national media panel. Staley's team has already beaten four ranked opponents, and she thinks the Gamecocks are only starting to figure themselves out.
"We are only going to get better," Staley said after her team beat No. 11 Utah. "That's the thing. I think this is the worst we're going to be. And we're just in December."
UCLA, North Carolina State, Iowa and Texas followed the Gamecocks in the Top 25. USC, LSU, Colorado, Stanford and Baylor rounded out the top 10. It was the first time this season that the top 10 teams were unchanged in the poll after a series of upsets.
While many teams have started their break for exams, the Gamecocks and Bruins were part of the Hall of Fame Women's Showcase tripleheader Sunday that featured six ranked teams. UCLA topped then-No. 20 Florida State, which fell to 22nd in the poll. No. 17 UConn beat now-No. 25 North Carolina in the nightcap following the Gamecocks' win.
UNLV and Miami entered the Top 25 for the first time this season. The Rebels came in at No. 23 and the Hurricanes at 24. Penn State and Washington State dropped out.
Kansas State continues to climb the poll, moving up to No. 12. It's the Wildcats' best ranking since the team was eighth in the final poll of the 2004 season. Kansas State's only loss came against Iowa in a Thanksgiving tournament, 10 days after the Wildcats beat the Hawkeyes. Jeff Mittie's team doesn't face another ranked opponent until a home game against Texas on Jan. 13.
HE SAID IT
"When you're missing really significant, impactful starters, it really has an effect on your team. We talked about how every coach in America is dealing with this. You just hear it more about it at Connecticut because of our profile. At Carolina, you don't hear about it much, but every coach is going through this all over the country. I wish coaches had an answer for why, but we don't. And, unfortunately, the teams that you think you're going to be watching next week, next month, two months from now, may not look at all like they look today. It's a big part of the game right now." -- UConn coach Geno Auriemma, whose team has lost three players for the season to injuries, including star guard Azzi Fudd (torn ACL).