The Connecticut women’s basketball team – arguably America’s most successful 21st century enterprise not propped up by Oprah Winfrey or municipal bonds – goes for its 88th consecutive victory Sunday, which would tie the 1971-74 mark of UCLA’s legendary men’s basketball team.
Like 56 (Joe DiMaggio) and 2,130 (Lou Gehrig), 88 was a number some sports historians thought to be untouchable.
The Harlem Globetrotters used to routinely win 88 consecutive games, but they were just playing the Washington Generals and the Clippers.
The Huskies’ sustained excellence – their last loss was to Stanford, 82-73, on April 6, 2008, in the NCAA national semifinals in Tampa (nothing good ever happens in Tampa) – brings to mind other impressive stretches:
• Oklahoma’s 47-game football winning streak from 1953-57.
• “American Idol” winning its time slot every week for six consecutive years.
• Carmen Electra staying married to Dennis Rodman for nine straight days in 1998.
For the Connecticut women, the numbers are staggering, reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire’s Southwestern European, Western Asian and North African dominance in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Huskies have gone more than 600 games since losing back-to-back contests.
They have played 236 straight games without allowing an opponent to shoot over 50 percent from the field.
They have won 144 straight games against unranked teams.
They have won 63 consecutive home games.
During their current streak, they have won 51 of the 87 games by at least 30 points. Only two opponents, Stanford and Baylor, have lost by less than 10 points.
They have held their opponents under 70 points in the last 77 games.
(I like it when I become a real sportswriter and start citing statistics. It makes me recognize that I’ve never fully realized my potential.)
This season’s 9-0 team under coach Geno Auriemma has been typically dominant. The Huskies are outscoring opponents by 38.6 points, outshooting them 51.0 percent to 30.5 percent and outrebounding them, 43.4 to 27.1.
I have searched the stats, far and wide, to find a weakness with these Huskies, and I have found it: Freshman forward Michala Johnson has missed the only free throw she’s taken this season.
Auriemma’s reign in Storrs – graced with such iconic players as Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Diane Taurasi, Tina Charles and Maya Moore – has been remarkable. Since going 43-39 in his first three seasons, Auriemma’s record is 701-83 with seven national titles, six coming since 2000.
(You read that right: 701-83. Think of how many losses Josh McDaniels would’ve piled up before he got to 701 wins. Heck, to make it to 701, the recently vanquished Denver Broncos coach would’ve been videotaping other teams’ practices until 2110.)
Of late, Auriemma’s name is most often linked to John Wooden, 620-147 at UCLA; Pat Summitt, eight national titles as Tennessee women’s coach; and Jim Calhoun, UConn men’s coach.
Auriemma came to Connecticut in 1985, Calhoun came in 1986. In 2004, they won national titles on consecutive nights.
(It would be curious if Auriemma and Calhoun flopped coaching positions. I doubt Auriemma could ever win 88 in a row with the guys, but I’m reasonably certain Calhoun could put the gals on NCAA probation.)
If Connecticut beats Ohio State on Sunday, it will go for 89 in a row Dec. 21 against Florida State.
America, of course, will – and should – revel in the achievement.
But let it be noted that from 1953-58, while earning four AAU women’s basketball national titles, Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas, won 131 – 131! – consecutive games.
However, this was pre-NCAA (which means it probably was more legitimate) and pre-ESPN (which means, for all intents and purposes, it really didn’t happen).
Ask The Slouch
Q. So you’re anti-competitive eating? What a hypocrite – you look like you haven’t missed a meal since Super Bowl III. (John Larkin; Pittsburgh)
A. Let me quote Sen. Crocker Jarmon (R-Calif.) from his 1972 debate against Bill McKay in “The Candidate:” “I am reminded of the last days of the great Roman Empire. They argued about what vices they could legalize and what happened was an onslaught that nearly spelled the end of civilization.”
Q. Will there be a return-of-the-Heisman-Trophy presentation show? (James Choi; Oakland, Calif.)
A. I think Cecil Newton’s working on a pay-per-view deal for that one.
Q. With the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, the Outback Bowl and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, why do we need a Fight Hunger Bowl? (C. Boggs; Westfield, Ind.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
Q. Who do I contact to have Redskins games blacked out in my area? (Terri Fawcett; Chantilly, Va.)
A. Pay the lady, Shirley.