DOUG FEINBERG, AP Basketball Writer
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies will have to wait a week before they officially move back into the No. 1 spot in the poll.
They left no doubt who the best team in the country was Monday night, turning the showdown with top-ranked South Carolina into an 87-52 rout.
Auriemma didn’t want to put too much emphasis on the one win.
“I think this was one night, one game in February,” he said. “They are going to be playing deep into the NCAA tournament. I told Dawn (Staley), I hope we play them in Tampa. That would be pretty special.”
His players, though, thought the game made a statement. With the conference not providing much of a challenge as UConn has won by an average of nearly 50 points a game, this was a final chance to be tested by a top opponent before the NCAA tournament.
“I felt like our team had something to prove to ourselves more than anything,” said Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who led the Huskies with 23 points. “Despite all the teams we’ve been playing, people were worried that we didn’t have competition. We showed that we could stand up to the occasion.”
Stewart said that the win over the Gamecocks “speaks for itself.”
Despite suffering the loss, Staley wasn’t discouraged.
“This is absolutely part of our journey,” the South Carolina coach said. “This isn’t a destination game for us. The only way this works for us is if we learn from it and use it.”
Her players echoed their coach’s sentiment.
“We’re not stunned. This is no way, shape or form the defining point in our season,” said Aleighsa Welch, who led the Gamecocks with 17 points and 11 rebounds. “We have to evaluate the film, ourselves. Learn from it and move on.”
The Huskies still have to beat Tulane on Saturday, before they move back into the top spot. UConn may have one more chance to play a ranked opponent this season as South Florida entered the Top 25 for the first time this season Monday at No. 25.
“Most people don’t understand how hard it is to get that national recognition,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “We’ve definitely done some very good things here at USF.”
Fernandez and his team were flying when the poll was released, but were excited when they landed in Dallas and heard the good news.
“It’s definitely good, but we’ve got to stay grounded,” he said. “It’s not like we didn’t already have an ‘X’ on our back in our league. This will be an added motivator for everyone we play down the road.”
The Bulls (19-4) will play their first game as a ranked team Tuesday at SMU.
Some notes from this week’s poll:
UNBEATEN: Princeton (21-0) is now the only undefeated team left in women’s basketball. The Tigers swept Cornell and Columbia this week, winning by an average of 33 points. Princeton plays at Brown on Friday and visits Yale on Saturday in a matchup of the top two teams in the Ivy League.
TIMBER: Stanford fell to 19th, the Cardinal’s worst ranking since being left out of the final poll of the 2000-01 season. They lost back-to-back conference games for the first time since getting swept on a Los Angeles trip in January 2008 and now have three league losses for the first time since 2005-06.
UPCOMING MATCHUPS: There are a bunch of other good games this week. Maryland hosts No. 18 Rutgers on Tuesday in a Big Ten matchup. The Terrapins haven’t lost in their new conference yet. Baylor puts its 21-game winning streak on the line when Oklahoma visits Wednesday. Thursday has a few key conference matchups with Florida State visiting No. 17 North Carolina. Kentucky hosts 13th-ranked Mississippi State. The Wildcats then visit Tennessee on Sunday. First place in the Pac-12 will be on the line Friday night when Arizona State visits Oregon State. The Beavers have only one conference loss, while the Sun Devils have two.
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