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Gonzaga strengthens grip on No. 1 spot in AP poll

Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1) and head coach Mark Few discuss strategy during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020 in SIoux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Josh Jurgens)
Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1) and head coach Mark Few discuss strategy during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020 in SIoux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Josh Jurgens) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All RIghts Reserved.)

A two-week layoff did nothing to slow down Gonzaga.

The Zags strengthened their grip on the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press college basketball poll released on Monday, earning 61 of 64 first-place votes from a media panel after knocking off then-No. 3 Iowa.

No. 2 Baylor received the remaining three first-place votes and Kansas moved up two spots to No. 3. Iowa and Villanova rounded out the top five.

Gonzaga showed no signs of rust after pausing team activities for two weeks due to COVID-19 issues. The Zags (4-0) jumped on the Hawkeyes early and went 13 of 26 from 3-point range to win 99-88 at The Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey said.

Gonzaga had last played on Dec. 2, an 87-82 win over No. 7 West Virginia in Indianapolis. The Bulldogs canceled their showdown with Baylor on Dec. 5 just hours before tipoff because a player and a staffer tested positive for COVID-19.

Gonzaga had to shut down after that and missed four home games before returning to the court last week.

The break worked out well for freshman Jalen Suggs, who had 18 of his 30 points in the first half against Iowa and went 7 for 10 from the 3-point arc.

“This past week-and-a-half, I spent a lot of time in the gym by myself, just late at night spending time getting shots up under the gun,” he said. “Coming into this weekend, I really felt like my jump shot improved and I felt really comfortable with it.”

TOP-10 LONGHORNS

No. 10 Texas has taken a big step forward in its sixth season under Shaka Smart.

The Longhorns (7-1) barely beat Davidson to open the relocated Maui Invitational, but followed up with wins over Indiana and No. 17 North Carolina to claim the tournament title in Asheville, North Carolina.

Texas lost to Villanova by four but has won three straight since, the latest 77-74 over Oklahoma State.

The Longhorns also beat Sam Houston State last week, helping them move into the top 10 for the first time since reaching No. 6 in 2014-15.

SPARTAN FALL

Michigan State had climbed to No. 4 after winning its first five games and remained there last week.

The Spartans took a big fall after an unexpected loss Sunday night.

Michigan State looked rusty in its first game in a week when it played Northwestern, falling into a big early hole before losing 79-65.

It was Northwestern’s first win over a top-five team in the AP poll since an 83-65 victory over Magic Johnson and then-No. 4 Michigan State on Jan. 27, 1979.

The loss dropped the Spartans eight spots to No. 12 this week.

“One of the more inept performances of my 26 years,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s kind of a harsh statement. I’m blaming myself. I’m the one that has to have my team ready.”

No. 18 Illinois had the next biggest drop, falling five spots after losing to Rutgers.

RUTGERS RISING

Rutgers was ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 1978-79 and has kept climbing.

The Scarlet Knights improved to 6-0 with a 91-88 victory over then-No. 13 Illinois, their first win in a game with both teams ranked in 35 years.

As a result, Rutgers had the biggest jump of the week, moving up eight spots to No. 11. The Scarlett Knights play No. 23 Ohio State on Wednesday and a win could move them into the top 10 for the first time since 1975-76.

No. 19 Michigan had the second-biggest jump this week, gaining six spots.

MOVING IN

Undefeated Xavier is ranked for the first time this season after moving into the poll at No. 22. The Musketeers improved to 8-0 by hitting 19 3-pointers in a 99-77 win over Oklahoma and a buzzer-beating victory against Marquette last week.

Virginia Tech dropped out of the poll last week following a loss to Penn State. The Hokies are back in this week at No. 24 after wins over Clemson and Coppin State.

No. 25 Oregon also returned to the poll following wins over San Francisco and Portland.

MOVING OUT

San Diego State dropped out from No. 18 after a home loss to BYU.

Clemson’s loss to Virginia Tech knocked the Tigers out of the poll from No. 24.

Louisville dropped out from No. 23 following a blowout loss to No. 9 Wisconsin.

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More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25