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NCAAW AP Poll (Week 11): From preseason No. 8 to No. 1, the Gamecocks have been validated

The South Carolina Gamecocks have been dominant this season, with freshmen Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke helping to lead the way. They became the fourth No. 1 of the season, while the Arizona State Sun Devils and Iowa Hawkeyes shocked the country en route to No. 18 and No. 22 rankings, respectively.

South Carolina v Maryland
South Carolina freshman Aliyah Boston has made her presence felt from day one.
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

It’s always fun to wake up on Monday and know that the new AP rankings are coming out soon. In the past couple of seasons, there hasn’t been a single dominant program. That means your team, no matter where they are in the Top 25, could become a contender in the NCAA Tournament come March.

Here’s an analysis of some of the teams that have risen — and fallen — in Week 11.

South Carolina Gamecocks remain hot, move up to No. 1

The Gamecocks (16-1, 4-0 SEC) notched the first big win of the season for any team in Division I women’s college basketball with their 63-54 triumph over then-No. 4 Maryland Terrapins on Nov. 10. They displayed talent on the defensive side of the ball, shutting down the high-powered Terps’ offense. Since that game they haven’t looked back, and their ascent to the No. 1 spot this week comes as a reward for defeating a total of five teams in the Top 25.

The Gamecocks won the national championship just three years ago when their former star player A’ja Wilson was a junior. They then went to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in the past two seasons, respectively. With an infusion of young talent, South Carolina just may be as talented as the 2017 championship-winning squad.

The head coach of their latest victim, Stephanie White of the Vanderbilt Commodores, thinks so:

I think this is one of the single most talented teams that [South Carolina coach] Dawn [Staley]’s had, which is really scary. Athletic, they were clicking on all cylinders, and they just have the ability to come out in waves and make runs.

South Carolina defeated Vanderbilt 93-57 on Jan. 12, marking its fourth-straight 90-plus scoring game to open SEC play. That’s more 90-plus scoring games than the Gamecocks have ever had in an entire SEC slate. Among those wins is a nine-point win over No. 23 Arkansas and an even more impressive 27-point win over No. 11 Kentucky. Aside from the Terps, South Carolina also defeated out-of-conference teams, including the No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears, considered an upset at the time, and the No. 25 South Dakota Coyotes. The Gamecocks’ one loss came against the No. 15 Indiana Hoosiers in November.

Two of South Carolina’s top three scorers are freshmen — Aliyah Boston at No. 1 and Zia Cooke at No. 3. If those two can show poise in big moments, the sky’s the limit for this team, which is the 12th edition of Staley’s tenure.

Baylor Lady Bears beat UConn Huskies, move up to No. 2

The Lady Bears went into Hartford, Connecticut on Jan. 9 and beat then-No. 1 UConn, ending the Huskies’ 98-game home winning streak. Baylor won comfortably and the victory allowed the team to return to its preseason ranking of No. 2. The Lady Bears won the national championship last year, but lost their best player in Kalani Brown to graduation. In the hopes of making themselves competitive for a repeat this year, they picked up South Carolina graduate transfer Te’a Cooper, who makes the team more versatile as a perimeter threat as opposed to last year, when it was all about Brown and Lauren Cox in the post. UConn played poorly on Jan. 9, so it’s hard to say that Baylor is definitively better than UConn.

Arizona State Sun Devils beat Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers, reenter rankings at No. 18

The biggest news from the past week is Arizona State’s shocking victories over the mighty Oregon teams, which sat at No. 2 (Ducks) and No. 3 (Beavers). The now-No. 5 Louisville Cardinals beating the Ducks was one thing, but a team that had fallen out of the rankings beating them — Arizona State— is another. And the Sun Devils proved that the win wasn’t a fluke by beating the Beavers in the very next game. The Sun Devils began this season ranked at No. 17 and were ranked last year before falling in the Sweet Sixteen. Although they need to build on last week’s success and become more consistent, the Sun Devils rise to No. 18 for now.

Iowa Hawkeyes beat Maryland Terrapins and Indiana Hoosiers, enter rankings at No. 22

Maryland has been the Big Ten’s perennial power in recent years, while Indiana has been the up-and-comer. Iowa went ahead and beat both of them last week, when the Terps were ranked at No. 17 and the Hoosiers were No. 12. Kathleen Doyle scored 31 points in the win over Indiana, which came in double overtime. She also dished out 10 assists and grabbed nine rebounds for a near triple-double. Iowa wasn’t expected to do much in the Big Ten this year but now the Hawkeyes have thrown themselves in the mix. Last year, they upset Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament championship game and superstar Megan Gustafson led them to the Elite Eight. A defending champ is a defending champ, and the seniors on Iowa’s team, like Doyle, know what it feels like to win. Taking away Gustafson is taking away a lot, but there was a lot of talent backing her up last year.

Other news

The No. 7 UCLA Bruins are 16-0 (5-0 Pac-12) and moved up one spot in the rankings. UCLA is the only remaining unbeaten team in the nation.

Last week’s No. 24 and No. 25 teams (the Michigan Wolverines and Princeton Tigers) were knocked out of the rankings due to the meteoric rises of Arizona State and Iowa.

No. 4 UConn, No. 6 Oregon and No. 8 Oregon State fell three, four and five spots, respectively.