Photo: AP Images
UConn’s women’s basketball team won its 88th consecutive game on Sunday, equaling the mark set by UCLA’s men’s team under legendary coach John Wooden.Brash coach Geno Auriemma immediately took the offensive to validate the streak.
“Because we’re breaking a men’s record, we’ve got a lot of people paying attention,” Auriemma said. ”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.”
Auriemma has reason to boast. The streak will never be touched again. No program will ever dominate like UConn’s women have for 26 months.
That’s because more girls are playing basketball than ever before, and they’re playing at a higher level. For example, between 1991 and 1998 (the most recent data we found) the number of AAU teams doubled from 2,712 to 5,749. As that number continues to grow, women’s coaches will have more top-flight talent to choose from.
UConn, Tennessee, and other top-flight programs have a finite number of scholarships. Eventually, the talent pool will overflow to non-traditional schools, and they’ll build teams to compete with the powerhouses. Sure, the Huskies may dominate, but as their opponents improve on a nightly basis the chances of a long winning streak decrease. It’s easier to go undefeated when you’re challenged once every few games, instead of every single game. (That’s why BCS voters are less impressed when TCU and Boise State go undefeated.)
That’s exactly what’s happened in men’s basketball. As the sport continued to grow, good players were forced into under-the-radar programs. That’s how we arrived at the current era, where the George Masons and the Butlers of the world can knock off Duke or Kentucky on any given night.
For proof, consider that 17 teams had two losses or fewer in a given season during UCLA’s heyday between 1970 and 1974. Between 2006 and 2010 only one team achieved that feat: the 2008 Memphis Tigers. It’s only a matter of time before women’s basketball follows suit.
So savour the streak Geno, it will be remembered for a long time. Probably forever.
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