Florida enters AP Top 25 poll for first time since 2016

South Carolina remains No. 1.

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Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley has the Gators ranked for the first time since 2016.

Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley has the Gators ranked for the first time since 2016.

Alan Youngblood/AP

Florida coach Kelly Rae Finley has the Gators playing their best basketball in years, with wins over four ranked teams in their past five games.

Buoyed by that success, the Gators jumped into The Associated Press women’s basketball poll at No. 19 on Monday, the team’s first ranking since 2016.

“Proud of our girls’ effort and buy-in,” Finley said. “They are an extremely fun team to coach. I am very blessed as a coach to have a group of young women who want to learn.”

Florida knocked off then-No. 7 Tennessee and 14th-ranked Georgia last week. Those wins closed out a stretch of five straight games against ranked Southeastern Conference foes. The Gators’ only loss in that span was to No. 1 South Carolina on Jan. 30.

The Gamecocks remained the top team in the poll this week and were a unanimous choice from the 30-member national media panel. South Carolina was followed by Stanford, Louisville, Michigan and North Carolina State.

Florida (17-6) has beaten five ranked opponents for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The Gators beat Kentucky and LSU to begin their tough five-game stretch and topped then-No. 25 Texas A&M earlier this season.

“It’s crazy cool,” Finley said. “We have six games left together in the regular season and we hope to play in the postseason. You can’t get there if you don’t reflect and connect the dots every day.”

The Gators were ranked for the first five weeks of the 2016-17 season before falling out on Dec. 12.

Florida wasn’t the only team that had a great week. Michigan topped then-No. 5 Indiana and 21st-ranked Iowa to move into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. The Wolverines’ No. 4 ranking is their best ever.

“That’s pretty awesome,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “So excited for our players and our program, and the growth we’ve continued to have night in and night out has been incredible. Even when we’ve had bumps in the road with COVID protocols and injuries, the next person has been able to step up.”

Arizona was No. 6 in the poll, followed by Indiana, UConn, Iowa State and Baylor.

Kansas State fell out of the rankings.

Here’s some other news from this week’s poll:

FALLING DOWN

It was a rough week for Tennessee, which dropped six spots to No. 13 after losing to Florida and UConn. The Lady Vols have lost three of four games since Keyen Green was lost for the season with a knee injury in a win over Georgia.

“We have just not recovered from that yet. I think right now the team is still searching, and we’re not getting her back, so we have to be able to step up and be mature,” Harper said after Sunday’s loss at UConn. “We’ve got to be able to find confidence in what we’re doing. That right now is the biggest drop-off for us in the last two weeks. We were playing with great confidence, great belief, great energy and great focus, and now we’re not.”

STRONG IN DEFEAT

Iowa’s sensational sophomore Caitlin Clark did everything she could to help the Hawkeyes win this week, but the team dropped two of its three games and fell four spots to No. 25. After scoring 43 points in a loss to Ohio State, Clark had 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over Wisconsin. She capped off the week with a career-best 46 points in Sunday’s loss at Michigan. Clark scored 33 of those points in the second half, including 25 in the fourth quarter when she hit a few 3-pointers from well beyond the arc.

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 1 South Carolina at No. 17 Georgia, Sunday. The Gamecocks play their final SEC road game against a ranked team.

THE TOP 25

1. South Carolina 21-1

2. Stanford 18-3

3. Louisville 21-2

4. Michigan 20-2

5. NC State 20-3

6. Arizona 17-3

7. Indiana 16-3

8. UConn 15-4

9. Iowa St. 20-3

10. Baylor 17-5

11. Georgia Tech 18-4

12. Oklahoma 20-3

13. Tennessee 19-4

14. LSU 18-4

15. Maryland 17-6

16. Texas 15-6

17. Georgia 17-5

18. Notre Dame 18-5

19. Florida 17-6

20. BYU 19-2

21. Ohio St. 16-4

22. Florida Gulf Coast 21-1

23. North Carolina 18-4

24. Oregon 14-7

25. Iowa 15-6

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