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Top women's teams have already been challenged this season


NEW YORK (AP) The women's basketball season is only a few weeks old and the top teams already have been challenged more than in the previous decade.

That is, unless you're talking about No. 1 UConn, which has won its first four games in record fashion by an average of 43.5 points.

Throw out the Huskies, and many of the other Top 25 teams have been tested. Twenty-six of their games have come down to the wire, decided by five points or fewer or in overtime, according to STATS.

That's the most over the same timeframe in the past decade. Only 16 fell within the same margin last November. Five years ago, there were just nine close calls.

Coaches have their own theories on why the change may be occurring, from the new rules to more seasoned teams. Or even just the fact that top players are going to a wider variety of schools.

''I think the talent's better,'' Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. ''I think the four quarters, to me, has a lot to do with it. After 10 minutes, you get to go and kind of regroup. If you're having a bad half, you can get it back together after 10 minutes.''

The NCAA changed from two 20-minutes halves to four quarters this year to try and help the flow of the game. It's a little early to tell how much of an influence this might have on upsets, but scoring is down about a half-point as compared to this point last season.

''I think there are great players all over the country,'' Texas coach Karen Aston said. ''Stanford's already been upset. We have a couple of teams in our league that have some surprising losses, so I just think there's a lot of good teams.

''If you don't bring your `A' game every night, you're going to get beat.''

Aston's team handed Tennessee its first loss of the season on Sunday. The Lady Vols had a couple of scares early on, beating Syracuse and Chattanooga by two points each.

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Second-ranked South Carolina has also had its share of close games. The Gamecocks opened the season with an eight-point win over Ohio State before beating UCLA by three and Arizona State by two.

Coach Dawn Staley says her roster is adjusting to new roles - and still winning.

''This isn't college football; we're not looking for style points,'' she said. ''We're looking for one point more to win.''

This season it seems even a close loss can help. UCLA entered the poll this week at No. 24 after losing in overtime to No. 3 Notre Dame.

Couple that with the three-point loss to the Gamecocks, and the Bruins were only two possessions from knocking off two of the best teams in the country. That's a big reason why they are in the Top 25 for the first time since last year's preseason poll.

''Everything happens in a context and those losses only appear to prove the strength of the Bruin team rather than any kind of failing,'' said voter Clay Horning of The Norman Transcript, who had UCLA ranked 11th this week. ''I'm ranking Notre Dame No. 2 and South Carolina No. 3, and given that, what the Bruins have done against each should affect any pollster.''

While it's way too early in the season to start saying there's parity, there have been 25 losses already by teams in the poll. That's up a little bit from last season. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues over the next few months heading toward the NCAA Tournament.


AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.


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