By DOUG FEINBERG
AP Basketball Writer
It’s been an emotional week for Florida coach Amanda Butler.
She had to miss the team’s victory at Tennessee on Thursday when her brother was rushed to the hospital with viral meningitis two days earlier. Fortunately, he’s back home resting and recovering now and she can fully enjoy the Gators’ first ranking in nearly seven years as the team entered The Associated Press women’s basketball poll at No. 20 on Monday.
"It’s a pretty brutal illness, we’re talking about your brain," Butler said of her brother John. "He’s got to rest and let his body recover. He should make a full recovery."
Butler flew to the hospital in Kentucky and missed the Gators’ second-ever victory at Tennessee. She was watching the game on her phone while in the waiting room with her 8-month-old niece since the baby wasn’t allowed to go back into the ICU at that time.
"I had the baby on one hip and I had my phone in the other hand watching and singing, `Jesus loves me’ because that was the only thing that would keep her from crying. I watched the entire first half of the game like that," Butler said.
"In the second half (of the game), I was able to do a baby swap with my parents and I was able to focus a little bit more on the game. My brother had woken up and I was in his room for the last two or three minutes of the game and I said, we were going to win and that was it. My brother was conscious and we facetimed the team after the game, John and I together and it was incredible."
Couple that with a victory at Mississippi on Sunday and Florida (14-2) tied the second-best start in school history.
"Anytime you can win on the road in our league it’s a great day," Butler said. "Put back to back road wins in the same week, it’s a fantastic week."
The Gators, who have already surpassed last season’s victory total of 13, are in the Top 25 for the first time since March, 2009.
"It’s a little bit of a validation for how hard you’re working," Butler said.
Florida was one of four new teams in the Top 25 as Miami (21), Louisville (23) and Southern California (25) all entered the poll this week. Northwestern, DePaul, California and Seton Hall all dropped out.
While there was a lot of change near the bottom, the top of the rankings remained unchanged. UConn was still the top choice after winning all three of its games this past week by double digits.
The Huskies were followed by South Carolina, Notre Dame, Texas and Ohio State.
Here are some other tidbits from the Top 25:
With Florida entering the poll, the SEC has seven teams ranked. South Carolina leads the way at No. 2. The Gamecocks are followed by No. 7 Mississippi State, No. 9 Kentucky, No. 13 Tennessee, No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 20 Florida and No. 24 Missouri. The only other conference to do it in the last decade was the Big East, who had seven teams for a few weeks during the 2012 season.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz knew his team might struggle early on while the young Cardinals were learning to play together. The Cardinals dropped four of their first five games falling out of the poll after being ranked No. 8 in the preseason. Now they’ve won 11 of their past 12 games, including routing then-No. 18 Duke, and re-entered the Top 25 at No. 23.
"I wasn’t concerned about we started 1-4 as Asia Durr played a total of 19 minutes in our first two games," Walz said. "She’s finally getting to show what we knew she could do."
Durr had been hampered by a groin injury that she suffered trying out for USA Basketball over the summer. She missed three games after playing sparingly in the first couple. She had 15 in the win over Duke, playing 28 minutes.
FALLING BLUE DEVILS
Duke continues to slide down the poll. The Blue Devils beat Wake Forest before losing to Louisville this past week and slipped to No. 22. It’s the team’s lowest ranking since Nov. 29, 1999 when they were also 22nd. The Blue Devils have been ranked ever since, a span of 309 consecutive weeks. Only Tennessee (544) and UConn (422) have been in the poll longer.
View the poll and how the voter breakdown at: http://collegebasketball.ap.org/Womens-Top-25-2016-10
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