Off to one of the best starts in school history, Illinois cracked The Associated Press Top 25 women’s basketball poll for the first time in 23 years on Monday.
The Illini (14-3) are ranked No. 24 in their first Top 25 appearance since Nov. 27, 2000. It’s been a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Shauna Green. The team was 7-20 last season and just 1-13 in the Big Ten. Illinois hasn’t had a winning season since 2012-13.
“It means a lot. I understand how far we’ve come in a really short time,” said Green, who came to Illinois after a successful run coaching at Dayton. “Most of the kids weren’t alive the last time we were ranked. I was a sophomore in college.”
South Carolina remained the No. 1 team, garnering all 28 votes from a national media panel. The Gamecocks have been No. 1 for 29 consecutive weeks. They were followed in the poll by Stanford and Ohio State, which rallied to beat Illinois on Sunday.
UConn moved up one spot to fourth. The Huskies had their game against DePaul on Sunday postponed when they had only six scholarship players available because of injuries.
LSU moved up two spots to fifth. It’s the first time the Tigers have been that high since Dec. 14, 2009, when they were also fifth. LSU (16-0) is off to the best start in school history, besting the mark held by the 2002-03 team that won its first 15 games.
South Carolina, Ohio State and LSU are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the country. The Gamecocks and Tigers meet on Feb. 12 in South Carolina.
Indiana, Notre Dame, UCLA, Maryland and Utah rounded out the top 10. The Utes lost their first game of the season, falling at Colorado last Friday.
The Illini, who haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2003, ended a 14-game losing streak last week to Northwestern. That gave Illinois 14 wins in its first 16 games, which was the best start ever for the school. Its losses have come to Indiana, Ohio State and Delaware.
“If you would have told me in the summer we’d be up 17 at Ohio State and have a chance to win I’d tell you were crazy,” Green said. “Perspective changes really quickly. (Getting ranked) is something we got to be happy about, Be proud of it, It has to motivate us even more.”
Villanova also re-entered the poll this week coming in at No. 25. The Wildcats had a five-week run in the poll earlier this season.
St. John’s and Creighton fell out of the poll.
Baylor moved to 3-0 in the Big 12 after knocking off then-No. 17 Oklahoma and No. 21 Kansas last week. Caitlin Bickle was a big reason why, posting double-doubles in both games. The Bears moved up five spots to No. 18 in the poll this week.