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Mercer cracks women’s Top 25 for first time since 1980

Head coach Susie Gardner has the Mercer Bears in the women’s Top 25 for the first time since Dec. 9. 1980. (Kathy Kmonicek / AP)
Head coach Susie Gardner has the Mercer Bears in the women’s Top 25 for the first time since Dec. 9. 1980. (Kathy Kmonicek / AP)
By Doug Feinberg Associated Press

NEW YORK – Mercer is back in the women’s rankings for the first time in 38 years.

The Bears, riding a 24-game winning streak, entered The Associated Press women’s Top 25 poll Monday at No. 25. It’s the first time the team has been in the poll since Dec. 9, 1980.

“This is a moment to celebrate,” Mercer coach Susie Gardner said. “This is awesome. It’s difficult for a mid-major to get considered and we’re very humbled and very honored without question to be ranked.”

Mercer’s next game is on Thursday in the opener of the Southern Conference tournament. The Bears, who have lost in the title game each of the last two seasons, will try and go one step further and earn the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid.

“We’ve had the heartbreak of the championship game the last two years,” Gardner said. “Last year, being up 13 with 12 minutes to go and losing the game at the end, we had to live with that. We don’t talk about it all the time and we haven’t talked about the (winning) streak. We always talk about the next game.”

The Bears are tied with No. 3 Baylor for the third-longest winning streak in the country behind No. 2. Mississippi State and top-ranked UConn.

The Huskies were once again the unanimous No. 1 choice from the 32-member national media panel. They will close out their regular season on Monday night against No. 20 South Florida.

The top five remained unchanged with Louisville and Notre Dame following UConn, Mississippi State and Baylor.

Oregon moved up two spots to sixth. Texas, South Carolina, UCLA and Oregon State round out the first 10 teams in the poll.

Oklahoma State fell out of the Top 25 and was replaced by Mercer.

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