AP Poll: Wildcats can take the Arizona heat

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 22 Women’s Arizona at Stanford Aari McDonald (with ball) and the Arizona Wildcats have kept things interesting in the Pac-12 this year. | Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The past week was highlighted by the Arizona Wildcats’ big win over then-No. 8 UCLA Bruins. The Wildcats are now flirting with becoming a Top 10 team, with the Maryland Terrapins following close behind.

It’s always fun to wake up on Monday and know that the new AP rankings are coming out soon. In the past couple of seasons, there hasn’t been a single dominant program. That means your team, no matter where they are in the Top 25, could become a contender in the NCAA Tournament come March.

Here’s an analysis of some of the teams that have risen — and fallen — in Week 14.

On the rise

No. 12 Arizona Wildcats (18-3, 7-3 Pac-12)

The Wildcats avenged a Jan. 5 loss to No. 10 UCLA with an impressive 92-66 blowout of the Bruins at home on Jan. 31. Aari McDonald scored 27 points — the number of points Arizona scored as a team to get off to an 11-point advantage in the opening quarter. The Wildcats then won the second (20-16), third (23-16) and fourth (22-18) quarters.

Over the past two weeks, the Wildcats also defeated the No. 19 Arizona State Sun Devils and the USC Trojans. Arizona moved up two spots, from No. 18 to No. 16 in the Week 13 (Jan. 27) rankings. Now, the Wildcats have been catapulted all the way up to No. 12 behind the continued leadership of McDonald, the nation’s ninth-best scorer (as of Feb. 2). The junior guard averages 20.8 points per game and scored 20 or more points against the Sun Devils, Bruins and Trojans. She was rewarded as the top player in the Pac-12 for Week 13:

Since losing three games in a row to elite teams (UCLA, No. 9 Oregon State Beavers, No. 3 Oregon Ducks) from Jan. 5-12, Arizona has won five straight. The Wildcats are now knocking on the door of becoming a Top 10 team after starting the season outside the Top 25.

No. 13 Maryland Terrapins (18-4, 9-2 Big Ten)

Maryland moved up three spots from Week 12 to Week 13 and has now climbed seven spots overall in just two weeks. The Terrapins are settled at No. 13 after an 85-65 win over Ohio State (12-9, 5-5 Big Ten) on Jan. 30.

Of the four games that the Terrapins won in the past two weeks, two were against ranked teams: No. 18 Indiana Hoosiers (76-62 on Jan. 20) and No. 21 Northwestern Wildcats (70-61 on Jan. 26).

The Big Ten played well in non-conference play, highlighted by its first winning record (9-5) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Although Maryland missed out on the opportunity to beat two ranked teams (No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks and No. 7 NC State Wolfpack) in non-conference play, they have benefited from the overall strength of the Big Ten.

The Terrapins will face both the Hoosiers and the No. 20 Iowa Hawkeyes a second time this season with hopes of improving their resume even more. Iowa defeated Maryland 66-61 in the teams’ first meeting.

Highlights: Maryland clicking on all cylinders against Ohio State

On the decline

No. 14 DePaul Blue Demons (20-3, 10-1 Big East)

The Blue Demons went into cruise control after their 84-74 loss to the No. 4 UConn Huskies on Dec. 16 but the Creighton Blue Jays (14-8, 6-5 Big East) halted DePaul’s 10-game winning streak with a 63-61 win on Jan. 31 that pushed the Blue Demons down three spots.

DePaul seemed ready to run away as the Big East’s regular-season champ. The Blue Demons already had defeated the other nine teams in the conference before their second matchup against the Blue Jays. Only two of those wins (over Creighton and the St. John’s Red Storm) were by single digits.

The loss to Creighton is now DePaul’s only notable blemish — the other two losses were to UConn and Oregon State.

Immediate effects of injuries to impact players

Rhyne Howard of the No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats (17-4, 6-3 SEC)

Rhyne Howard has missed two games after breaking a finger on Jan. 27, including a 70-62 loss to the Florida Gators (12-10, 3-6 SEC) on Feb. 2. The injury is on her left hand — she shoots right — and the team expects her to return to action in mid-February. The loss to the Gators dropped Kentucky two spots in the rankings, but the team has a chance to be at full strength come March.

Chennedy Carter of the No. 16 Texas A&M Aggies (18-4, 6-3 SEC)

The Aggies hope to be at full strength soon because dominant scorer Chennedy Carter is expected to return from the ankle injury she suffered on Jan. 9 against the LSU Tigers. Texas A&M lost that game to LSU, and lost to the Tigers again, 59-58, on Feb. 2. Between those losses, the Aggies recorded four wins. But the most recent loss was enough to drop the Aggies one spot in the rankings.

Nausia Woolfolk of the No. 17 Florida State Seminoles (18-4, 7-4 ACC)

The Seminoles saw senior guard Nausia Woolfolk go down with an ankle injury during a win over the Miami Hurricanes on Jan. 26. Florida State lost its next game — against the Boston College Eagles (12-9, 5-5 ACC) — by a score of 65-56 on Jan. 30. Woolfolk, Kiah Gillespie and Nicki Ekhomu account for 60 percent of the Seminoles’ scoring with Woolfolk averaging 14.5 points per contest.

Woolfolk returned against the Pittsburgh Panthers on Feb. 1 but played only 18 minutes and scored just three points. Ekhomu, a fellow guard, stepped up with 25 points and the Seminoles defeated the Panthers 66-41. Still, the loss to Boston College did its damage. The Seminoles dropped three spots in the poll.