On March 31, the greatest winning streak in sports history ended when Mississippi State defeated UConn’s women’s basketball team in overtime, 66-64. For the first time in 111 games, the UConn women’s basketball team faced reality. The reality was that even the Huskies are human. The players and fans will surely dwell on the loss and the thoughts of what could have been. However, one loss should not overshadow the dominance and grip UConn and coach Geno Auriemma have had on women’s college basketball.
Many will try to discredit Auriemma and the UConn program by saying that it has all of the best players. While this is true to a certain extent, the notion that there are no other great players out there is simply wrong. Auriemma does recruit the best players and expects to get them, but that is the luxury of being Auriemma: that with the status of the program, he can recruit anyone he wants. At the same time, other prominent programs draw top recruits, too. The notion that Auriemma wins solely because he has the best talent is blatantly false. Programs like Stanford, Tennessee and Baylor still draw All-Americans and have all the resources they could ever need. Yet, only Baylor has been able to scrape the surface of UConn’s accomplishments, when the Bears went undefeated in 2012. ESPN’s Doris Burke finds that argument ludicrous too.
“There’s a cultural bias remaining as it relates to women’s basketball,” Burke was quoted as saying in a Hartford Courant article. “There’s not enough good coaching, there’s not enough good players, etc. If that’s your argument, you can make that argument forever. It still doesn’t diminish what this guy [Auriemma] is doing. That part is truly frustrating to me.”
Even if one believes UConn has won solely on talent, one must not ignore the pure mathematical improbability of a triple-digit winning streak. Even the best teams have bad shooting nights or suffer a key injury. Moreover, the odds of going undefeated are tough enough, much less 111-game winning streak. During the streak, the Huskies had 10 60-point wins, compared to just three single-digit wins. It is that kind of dominance that makes winning feel inevitable.
At the end of the day, Auriemma deserves most of the credit. In his career thus far, he has compiled win streaks of 70, 90 and 111 games. He also won his 11th title last year, one more than the legend John Wooden. Although he is already the most accomplished women’s basketball coach ever, this may have been his best coaching job of his career. Last year, the Huskies beat ranked opponents by an average of 20 points and the three best players from that team went on to be the top three picks in the WNBA draft. With such a young roster, regression was expected. Instead, the team eclipsed its mark from last season, beating ranked opponents by 21 points this time despite having arguably the toughest schedule in the country.
Burke also believes Auriemma deserves a lot of credit for what he has done this season.
“He doesn’t get the credit in my mind that he deserves,” Burke said in The Courant. “If you ask people in basketball, someone like Jeff Van Gundy, what he thinks of Geno, he’s going to tell you that he can coach at any level, either gender and he’s going to be successful.”
Next season, the Huskies will return their entire core, as well as the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Odds are, their first win will be the start of yet another historic streak. Whether or not they pass 111 games is yet to be determined, but it seems like they are the only ones that will ever break their records.
Andrew Lombardo is a journalism major from Middletown, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Anlombardo8.