The University of Connecticut women’s team broke the record Tuesday for the longest NCAA Division I basketball winning streak, surpassing the John Wooden led-UCLA men’s teams of 1971-74 .
In front of a sold-out home crowd, the Huskies dominated 20th-ranked Florida State, 93-62, with standout Maya Moore scoring a career high 41 points and 10 rebounds. President Obama, a big basketball fan, called Coach Geno Auriemma later that night to congratulate the team.
Despite their average win margins of 30 plus points and the performances of superstars Moore and Tiffany Hayes, who average 19 and 10 points per game, respectively, some sports critics and fans alike say comparisons between men’s and women’s sports just don’t add up.
In the 25 years Auriemma has directed Connecticut’s program, the Huskies have been dominant, capturing seven national titles (six in the last decade), making 11 Final Four appearances and notching four perfect seasons (1995, 2002, 2009, 2010).
ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap offered his perspective on the 89-win streak:
Greg Wooden, the grandson of Hall of Fame UCLA men’s basketball Coach John Wooden, was on hand to support the Huskies, and said his grandfather, who died earlier this year, would have welcomed the Connecticut team’s success. He told The Associated Press: “My grandfather would have been thrilled. He would have been absolutely thrilled to see his streak broken by a women’s basketball team. … 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.”
John Wooden’s UCLA teams won 88 straight games from 1971-74. Wooden died June 4 at age 99.
However, Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times wanted UConn’s team and coaches to know:
“You’re not chasing UCLA’s record of 88 consecutive victories under John Wooden. You didn’t tie it and you’re not going to break it. That’s a men’s basketball record.”
Coach Auriemma had a fiery retort for Potash and any other critics who doubt the discipline and prowess it takes to go undefeated in any sport. At a Sunday news conference after the Huskies tied the UCLA record with a win over Ohio State, Auriemma said:
The reason everybody is (here) in this room and the reason everyone’s been having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record and everybody’s all up in arms about it.
Stephen Litel of Slam magazine wrote that it should not be viewed through the prism of gender:
The fact of the matter is simple and that is the UConn women are about to break the Division I basketball record.
USA Today sports journalist Christine Brennan examined the gender-bias issue in her weekly column, wondering why UConn wasn’t generating a major buzz over its winning streak:
To date, there’s been a stunning lack of interest from the mainstream sports media concerning one of the great athletic feats of our time…If a men’s team were in UConn’s position, going for its 88th consecutive victory, coverage likely already would have reached the saturation point with countdown clocks, hour-long specials and grainy retrospectives.”
So why hasn’t the nation embraced the Huskies? Brennan, who spoke with the NewsHour in March when they surpassed their 2001-03 UConn predecessors’ streak of 71 wins says the mainstream sports media allowed a big women’s sports story to “fall through the cracks.” “If this were a men’s team [about to break UCLA’s record] every grandmother from Topeka to Toledo would know about it.”
And while some major news organizations have given ample attention to the Huskies’ accomplishments — including The New York Times and USA Today, “the coverage has not kept up” with women’s sports nearly 40 years after Title IX was exacted, Brennan said in an NPR interview.
NPR sports commentator Frank DeFord chimed in on the debate, noting that “on the whole, far less attention is paid to women’s team sports than to women’s individual sports.” He goes on to say that “And to be frank, female fans have themselves miserably failed their sisters; they’ve not yet come to support women’s teams as men do their own athletes.”
Still, he says a phenomenon such as UConn could change the everyday thinking:
The Huskies force people — men and women alike — to at least think about women’s teams. The idea. Little girls see UConn and they realize they don’t have to pick up a tennis racket or a pair of figure skates. By being so good, UConn has not just transcended its sport, but it’s doing a number on tradition. On sexism, too.
Regardless of coverage, Moore and the Huskies have already entered the sports history books with 89 consecutive wins and back-to-back national championships.
As their season continues, there is no doubt that competitors like Stanford and Baylor will try to snap the streak. The Huskies meet No. 8 Stanford on Dec. 30.