Connecticut makes dominance look awfully easy. And boring.
The No. 1 Huskies extended their winning streak to 89 games with a 93-62 win against No. 22 Florida State, besting an 88-game mark by John Wooden’s UCLA men’s team from 1971-74. Yeah. Raise your hand if you ever thought that would happen.
“It’s amazing. It really is,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.
Regardless how you feel about the streak – men’s record, women’s record, NCAA record, different era. different ball, take your pick – UConn’s entered into once-in-a-generation status. (President Obama called during Auriemma’s postgame press conference. That’s usually reserved for championship games.)
This isn’t about men or women. This is about excellence. Relentless, consistent excellence over a period of years. Doesn’t matter if you watch women’s hoops or ignore it all costs.
Winning 89 consecutive games shouldn’t be possible. It shouldn’t be possible to beat 31 ranked teams by an average of 25 points. Yet, here’s UConn, steamrolling yet another Top 25 opponent.
Perfection demands a level of effort most athletes and teams can’t fathom. It’s routine for UConn.
“One thing that’s non-negotiable is that the one thing we have in common is we settle for nothing less than the absolute best we give you every single night. They did it and we’re doing it. Everything else to me is meaningless,” Auriemma said.
Winning 89 straight wouldn’t be possible without a demanding, hyper-competitive coach like Auriemma. He’s built his program into a machine that stockpiles top-flight players, meshes them into a single that crushes all comers.
“He comes to practice every day expecting you to play well, play perfectly,” former UConn star Sue Bird told the Hartford Courant. “It’s about going out every night and playing well and beating somebody. That’s what he expects. So for someone like him to have built this streak, well, it’s almost fitting.”
It’s exactly what Wooden had at UCLA during from the mid’60s and into the mid-‘70s. Seven national titles and four perfect seasons since 1995? I never thought I’d see something like it in my lifetime and would be forced to rely upon grainy images and old video of the Bruins. But this is what UCLA’s dominance was like. The programs have the same aura.
The streak is just an easy way to tie them together.
“My grandfather would have been thrilled. He would have been absolutely thrilled to see his streak broken by a women’s basketball team,” said Wooden’s grandson, Greg, who attended Tuesday’s game. “He thought, especially in the last 10 years, that the best basketball was played at the collegiate level — and it wasn’t by the men.”
Still, the streak has one fault.
(And it’s not that Tennessee – the other dominant women’s program of the last 20 years – hasn’t been on the schedule since the streak began. Vols coach Pat Summitt is Auriemma’s longtime rival, but her squad isn’t any better than the others UConn’s beaten since the streak began, such as Baylor or Stanford.)
The games are a snore. UConn’s even vanquished any sense of drama!
I switched off Tuesday’s game before halftime. The outcome was never in doubt. Same with 87 of the 89 games during the streak. Only two teams – Stanford during the 2010 title game and Baylor earlier this season – have come within single digits of beating the Huskies. UConn’s killing everyone, including the viewing audience.
That’s not a rip of the women’s game or of UConn. It’s just a by-product of being exceptional. For now, it’s routine. UConn won again. No surprise there.
The streak will get its due after it ends. A little space will provide more perspective and provide a greater appreciation for just how frickin’ unreal winning 89 in a row is. (Or whatever the final number is.) That was true for Wooden’s teams, too. It wasn’t until he retired and the Bruins stopped winning the title every year that people realized they were seeing history.
Not that Geno wants to be reminded of UCLA every time someone asks him about the streak. His Huskies have earned their own place in the record books.
“I don’t want my team to compare themselves to anyone,” Auriemma said. “I’m not John Wooden and this isn’t UCLA. This is Connecticut and that’s good enough.”
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