Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff challenged his team early on, opening the season against the top two teams in the country.
Despite losing both those games to South Carolina and UConn - and one later to No. 3 Notre Dame - it showed the Buckeyes what they needed to work on to compete with the best and helped get them ready for the tough Big Ten Conference.
''Our schedule was really important in preparing us for the last couple games we won,'' McGuff said. ''It forced us to really look at areas we needed to improve. Our players have accepted the challenge to get better in those areas. We have a toughness we didn't have early in the season and you saw that against Maryland.''
Ohio State moved up four spots to No. 5 in The Associated Press women's basketball poll Monday after ending Maryland's 31-game conference winning streak Saturday. The Buckeyes had beaten Michigan State a few days earlier by five points.
''Those tough early season games really helped us the last couple of games,'' he said. ''Without them we don't walk away with the wins.''
Now McGuff has Ohio State among the first five for the first time in nearly six years. He took over the program in 2013 after the Buckeyes had fallen out of the rankings the year before. Ohio State had been a staple in the Top 25 for nearly a decade only missing a few weeks here and there before dropping out in 2012.
The Buckeyes re-entered the poll last March for the first time since then and they've been climbing ever since.
''It's nice. We can't get too excited about it though as it's early January,'' McGuff said. ''I talked to the team today and our biggest emphasis is to continue to get better. We've made significant improvements here in the last month and that's why we were in a position to win against Michigan State and Maryland.''
The loss dropped Maryland to No. 8. The Terrapins lost their other game last week, falling to No. 1 UConn by 10 points at the Maggie Dixon Classic. Maryland was within 4 points of the Huskies in the final minute before losing by 10.
UConn continued its stay at No. 1. The Huskies have a busy week ahead with three games, including one at No. 22 South Florida on Sunday.
South Carolina and Notre Dame followed UConn. Texas was fourth.
UConn remains the No. 1 team in The Associated Press women's basketball poll Monday after facing a tough test from Maryland.
The Huskies, one of four unbeaten teams left, topped the Terrapins by 10 points at the Maggie Dixon Classic last Monday. UConn (11-0) only led by four in the final minute before pulling away. The Huskies have a busy week with three games over the next seven days.
South Carolina and Notre Dame stay second and third in the Top 25. Texas moved up to fourth while Ohio State is fifth. It's the Buckeyes highest ranking in nearly six years as they moved up four spots after beating then-No. 6 Maryland.
Baylor, Mississippi State, Maryland, Stanford and Kentucky round out the first 10.
Seton Hall re-entered the poll at No. 25 while Miami fell out. The Pirates host No. 24 DePaul on Tuesday.
Here are some other tidbits from this week's Top 25.
South Carolina and Texas join the Huskies as the only undefeated teams left. On the other end of the spectrum, Air Force, Norfolk State and Boston University are still looking for their first victories.
BIG WEEK AHEAD
Missouri, which is up to No. 20 in the poll, suffered its first loss of the season, falling to No. 12 Tennessee 71-55 on Monday night. It was believed to be the first time that they played a Top 25 team at home as one themselves since 1984 when No. 9 Missouri hosted 12th-ranked Kansas State. It doesn't get any easier for the Tigers with road games against Georgia and No. 2 South Carolina this week.
MOVING ON UP
It's already been a record for Mississippi State. Now ranked seventh in the poll, the Bulldogs survived a furious rally from Florida to win their SEC opener Sunday.
To find the poll and how the board voted - http://collegebasketball.ap.org/Womens-Top-25-2016-9(hash)
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