JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight: The University of Connecticut’s women’s team makes basketball history.
Judy Woodruff has our story.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The team’s victory over Notre Dame last night was its 71st consecutive win, an NCAA record.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The streak dates back to November 2008. Behind it all is famed coach Geno Auriemma.
GENO AURIEMMA, head coach, University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball Team: It’s pretty remarkable. And, probably, tonight, at some point, I will sit back and think, wow, you know, that’s a — that’s a lot of wins. And I guess it’s better that we break our own record. I wouldn’t want to break somebody else’s record.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Monday’s victory surpasses the school’s last great winning streak that spanned from November 2001 to March 2003.
The University of Connecticut, UConn, has dominated the women’s game in recent years, winning six national titles. This year, even top teams haven’t stood a chance. The Huskies have won every game in their 32-0 season by double digits.
KALANA GREENE, University of Connecticut basketball player: I’m happy that we did it. It’s done. We won’t hear, oh, my God, beat the streak, beat the streak. We’re looking to win the next game, and that’s what we have done, look to do all season, and that’s what we are going to keep continuing to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Forward Maya Moore scored 11 points last night.
MAYA MOORE, University of Connecticut basketball player: We know how special our team is, and we know what — what kind of a special thing we have got going over the past couple years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: If the UConn women continue to win into early next season, they would have a shot at breaking the 88-game record set by the UCLA men’s team back in the 1970s.
For now, instead of celebrating, the Huskies are concentrating on winning another title next month.
And for more about Connecticut’s dominance and what it means for the sport, we’re joined again by Christine Brennan of ABC Sports and USA Today.
It’s good to have you with us…
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … this time in person.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, this is a big deal for UConn.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Oh, it’s a huge story. I mean, when you think about dominance, and when — you mentioned the UCLA men’s streak going back to the 1970s — almost any sports fan knows that — here is UConn now at 71 and counting, dominating teams. There’s no threat of losing.
It is extraordinary. And at the time of the most balance in women’s sports, you know, with Title IX and so many things, the advancements in women’s sports, Judy, to think that you have got this kind of dominating team at this time in women’s sports history, it’s extraordinary.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let’s talk about why. A lot of attention to the coach, Geno Auriemma.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Oh, for sure. The cult of personality, that is what we’re about in sports, whether it’s Kobe or Tiger or Lindsey, from Lindsey Vonn.
In this case, it’s Geno. And Geno owns the state of Connecticut. And you have got this aura about this great program that he’s developed over the years, so that almost any girl who plays basketball in the United States knows about UConn and wants to go there.
And I think it does start with this man who has got this great ability as a personality to shine and to recruit, and also a fantastic basketball mind. And he has developed and really pulled in, I think, Judy, some of the greatest talent in the country at each position. He’s got an all-star team. And it’s all there at one university.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is it that simple? Is it great coach, great recruiting? Is that really all there is to the story?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: I — well, I don’t think so. I think it’s a tradition of excellence, so that, at UConn, they expect to win. They expect to be great.
And, in fact, I love the strategy that they’re talking about now, which is not so much playing the opponent, but playing the game and playing against themselves. And, so, they weren’t entirely satisfied when they won that 71st game, because they know that they have got more to do.
And it’s — Bobby Knight used to talk about this on the men’s side, playing your game. Don’t — don’t worry so much about the opponent, but do what’s best and what you’re best at. It’s a great philosophy for dominating, you know, opponents.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, it wasn’t so long ago that there were several women’s college teams that were doing well. What changed? I mean, what happened?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Yes, it’s a great question. And it concerns me.
I must admit, I’m a little worried about women’s basketball, when you have got this kind of dominance. It would be one thing, Judy, to say this in 1990. Title IX was signed by Richard Nixon in June of 1972. That opened the playing fields of America to girls, as well as boys.
So, I would say 1990, even 2000, you would expect this kind of dominance. I’m surprised that, in 2010, we’re seeing one team being so strong, where there’s no one getting within 10 points, 12 points — Stanford was in December. That’s as close as anyone has gotten.
This team has only been behind in three games in the second half of the 71-game streak. And I’m surprised, and I think it’s a little worrisome, that, in the depth, with all these girls, you know, hundreds of thousands of girls playing basketball in our country, where is another team rising to the challenge? Right now, we don’t see it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Worrying for down the line, recruiting, getting girls interested, to stay interested in college sports?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Well, and basketball, of course, is the national game, you know, for boys and girls. And you have got all these AAU tournaments and high school tournaments, and, you know, starting their daughters, just like their sons, at age 4 and 5 and 6.
So, my question is, why now? I mean, I guess it’s great that UConn is so fantastic. The flip side is, where are the five, six, seven, eight other teams who are rising to the challenge?
The hope would be that this is the future; what we’re seeing with this incredibly professional-style team, this dominating team, that, 10 years from now, maybe there will be, what, 20 teams like this playing women’s basketball.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the audience, whether they’re watching in person or whether they’re watching on television, Christine Brennan? What does that look like? I mean, that’s been an ongoing struggle.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: It has for women’s sports. And I think maybe the victory is in participation as much as pro leagues or spectators. There certainly is an audience for women’s sports. And, at times like the Olympics or national, international events, you see quite an audience.
But it is — it pales in comparison to the men’s audience, say, for the men’s Final Four vs. the women’s Final Four. And I think it’s just one of those things that might take another generation or two. Maybe I’m a Pollyanna, but that maybe it will take the 10-year-old girl to now — to be 40 years old and to have daughters, and say, now we’re all going to watch women’s sports, in a way that a 40-year-old woman might not say that now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what keeps these women athletes going? Obviously, individual stories, individual sports and teams, but what do you think keeps them going, when they know they have — here they have pulled off this amazing achievement, 71 games. But the audience, the crowd isn’t going to be…
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Right. And it’s still the men’s tournament. And we don’t even sometimes use that pesky adjective “men’s” to describe the basketball tournament.
President Obama last year does his bracket. He doesn’t even say “men’s bracket.” You know, it’s as if there’s this stepchild, and it’s the women’s. I think it’s college scholarships. I think it’s interest locally. It’s high schools. It’s families caring about it. And it’s the opportunity for girls, just like boys for generations, to learn about winning and losing at a young age, teamwork and sportsmanship.
It makes better people, frankly. So, Title IX is still working its magic. It just hasn’t equated to great television ratings day in and day out for women’s sports. Maybe it never will. Maybe it’s simply participating, and not having the pro sports interest or the great interest in the college game, but just the love of participating on that level.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meantime, a record broken, UConn.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Absolutely.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Christine Brennan, great to see you. Thank you very much.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Judy, thank you. My pleasure.