North Carolina No. 1 for the first time

North Carolina finally added what was missing from its women’s basketball resume after a national championship and two Atlantic Coast Conference titles – a No. 1 ranking.

North Carolina climbed to the top of The Associated Press poll for the first time on Monday, a day after the Tar Heels beat No. 2 Duke in an intense game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The matchup became a battle for the top spot after Duke’s victory six days earlier over Tennessee, which had been No. 1 for eight weeks. North Carolina (20-0) is now the only unbeaten team in men’s or women’s Division I basketball. The Tar Heels received all 46 first-place votes from a national media panel.

“I’m happy for our kids,” said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, who guided the Tar Heels to the 1994 NCAA title. “They work really hard. But we know we can’t relax. Everybody’s going to be after us. And we want to be No. 1 at the end of the season.”

North Carolina, which moved up from third, had never been higher than No. 2 in 243 previous appearances in The AP poll. And the Tar Heels reached that position only once – the week of Nov. 29, 2004.

Duke (20-1) remained second, while No. 3 LSU (17-1) and No. 4 Connecticut (19-2) each moved up one place. Tennessee (19-2) lost at Kentucky three days after the loss at Duke and dropped to fifth. Those were the first back-to-back losses for the Lady Vols since 1997.

Kentucky joined the poll at No. 21 as one of four newcomers, the first ranking for the Wildcats in 13 years. St. John’s came in at No. 25 to end an even longer absence from the poll – 22 years.

The other newcomers were No. 23 Boston College and No. 24 North Carolina State. Both had been ranked earlier this month.