Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of UConn women’s basketball. I have my reasons, but none that overshadow the team’s historic accomplishment this week. So, today I join UConn fans in celebrating the Huskies’ talent and skill after last night’s victory that broke the 88-game Division 1 winning streak set by John Wooden’s UCLA men in 1974. UConn defeated No. 22 Florida State 93-62 for the team’s 89th consecutive win.
The Huskies (not Lady Huskies, thank you very much) have dominated Division 1 women’s basketball since the streak started in 2008. According to sports statisticians who live for margins and percentages, UConn’s average margin of victory is 33.3 points. Just four teams have come within 10 points and only one has shot at least 50% from the field. (That team was Baylor, who, despite shooting 53%, lost by one point a few weeks ago.) Even apart from the winning streak, the Huskies have not lost two consecutive games in 17+ years.
Connecticut’s performance this year has come as a surprise to some. Last season’s player of the year and one of the game’s best centers, Tina Charles, graduated last spring along with Kalana Greene, who was the team’s third leading scorer after Charles and Maya Moore. Then starting point guard Caroline Doty had to have ACL surgery over the summer, forcing her to sit out the whole season. Factor in strong reserve players Kalli McLaren and Meghan Gardler, also part of last season’s graduating class, and more than half the minutes played — and more than half of the points scored — last season were by players not on the team this year.
This season’s UConn team has five freshmen — and two are starters: Bria Hartley, point guard, and Stefanie Dolson, center. But the youth doesn’t show on the court. The women have focus, teamwork, aggression and solid fundamentals.
And they have Maya Moore.
Moore is a senior forward and UConn’s career scoring leader. She has 2443 points with an average of 19 per game, plus over a thousand rebounds. Against Florida State last night, she set a career scoring record of 41 points. In the three-plus years she’s been a Husky, she has not missed a single game.
“She has had a tremendous impact not only on this streak, but on the women’s game,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “Her consistency, her attitude and her skill set put her on a different plane. She’s never going to be complacent and her confidence lifts the confidence of the players around her.”
Watching Moore is a joy to women’s basketball fans not only because of her game, but also her attitude. She is a leader on the court and off – and noticeably lacks the arrogance seen in some players of her caliber. UConn coach Geno Auriemma gives her credit for much of the team’s success while she’s been a Husky.
“She has put us in the position where we are now,” he said. “Her competitiveness and how she goes about what she does is absolutely incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who can rise to big occasions better than Maya. As long as you’ve got her on your side, you’ve got a chance to win every game you play.”
For his part, Auriemma just wishes his team’s accomplishment were getting the kind of media attention a men’s team would get. And he thinks that a lot of the press they’re getting now is only because they’re challenging the record of a men’s team.
“Because we’re breaking a men’s record, we’ve got a lot of people paying attention. If we were breaking a women’s record, everybody would go, ‘Aren’t those girls nice, let’s give them two paragraphs in USA Today, give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and then let’s send them back where they belong, in the kitchen.’ “
He pissed off some people when he said that, but Geno deserves credit for standing up for the women’s game, as he always does. He is from a family of strong women and he loves helping young women achieve excellence. This streak is evidence that the hard work he insists on pays off, but it will not change the coach’s expectations of his team. He requires the best every day. And he usually gets it.
Join me in congratulating the UConn women’s basketball team on this remarkable achievement. They have certainly earned every accolade they get.