Auriemma doesn't mince words as UConn matches UCLA's streak
NEW YORK -- Of course she knew about the streak. The daily reminders from friends and passers-by on campus had buzzed in the ear of Samantha Prahalis for the past two months. Regardless of subject matter and the length of interaction, the Ohio State junior All-America point guard found plenty of conversations punctuated by a two-word conclusion-cum-request:
That had been an impossible task for Connecticut's 87 opponents prior to Ohio State, but in the days leading up to Sunday's game at Madison Square Garden, Prahalis explained why her team would not be intimidated by history.
"We weren't a part of the 87 (consecutive-game winning streak) so why should we be intimidated," said Prahalis, who has "shhh" tattooed on her index finger. "Yes, they have tradition. Yes, they have a great team. But we're playing on a stage, and if you play scared, you will get embarrassed. We were not a part of the 87 so why should we be scared of them."
Scared Ohio State was not, but they are now history, and part of history as well. UConn (10-0) recorded its 88th consecutive victory with a convincing
"One thing that is non-negotiable that we have in common with them (UCLA's teams) is that we settle for nothing less than the absolute best we can give every single night and every single day," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. "There are very few people who did that. They did it. And we're doing it."
UConn entered the game winning its previous 87 in a row by an average of 33.3 points and has been ranked No. 1 for 49 consecutive weeks in the Associated Press poll. If you distill the 88-game winning streak minute to minute, UConn has trailed for a total of 134 minutes, 58 seconds of a possible 3,520 minutes (3.8 percent, and just 13:21 of second halves). That includes the 2:50 they trailed against Ohio State on Sunday.
Auriemma had predicted both teams would show nerves early, but after Ohio State (8-2) jumped to a 6-0 lead on a pair of three-pointers from senior guard Brittany Johnson, it was the Buckeyes who ended up cracking. UConn went on a 13-0 run early in the first half, keyed by a robust performance by junior guard Tiffany Hayes (26 points, six rebounds, four steals and two blocks). Hayes and senior All-America forward Maya Moore scored 17 of UConn's first 19 points as the Huskies pushed the ball in transition as fast as they had all season. Moore (22 points and seven rebounds) said Auriemma had told them to "rebound and run," and the pace UConn set was blistering. UConn's 40-26 halftime lead (Moore and Hayes combined for 28 of those points) would have been much worse had the Huskies not missed a number of easy layups.
Prior to the game, Auriemma said Prahalis and Ohio State All-America senior center Jantel Lavender represented the best inside-outside combination his team had faced in some time, but UConn freshman center Stephanie Dolson (15 rebounds) battered Lavender into a subpar performance (14 points and seven rebounds). Then there was poor Prahalis, who suffered through one of the worst shooting days of her college career, finishing 2-for-17 from the field and 1-for-9 from three-point range.
The second half felt like Midnight Madness in Storrs. With 38 seconds left in the game, the chorus at MSG serenaded UConn's players with chants of "88, 88," and upon the final buzzer, Connecticut's players and coaches headed to center court to pose for a gaggle of photographers. Auriemma eventually hugged his wife, mother and brother through flashbulbs. He said he told his players before the game to think of the kids they played with in high school or AAU who would be watching on TV. His team has won its games this season by an average of 37.8 points.
"It would have been stupid of me not to remind them this week of what was out there for them," Auriemma said. "Today was an opportunity for them to do something that everyone will remember, and especially them."
The game had a huge press contingent for a women's basketball regular-season game, including
"I know there would not be this many people in this [press] room if we were chasing a women's record," Auriemma said after the game. "The reason why everyone is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men's record, and everyone is up in arms about it. All the women are happy as hell and can't wait to come in and ask questions. All the men who love women's basketball are excited, and all the miserable bastards who follow men's basketball and don't want us to break the record are all here because they are pissed. So that's the way it is.
"If we were breaking a women's record, everybody would go: 'Aren't those girls nice.' Just give them two paragraphs in USA Today or give them one line on the bottom of ESPN, and let's send them back where they belong in the kitchen." But because we are breaking a men's record, we have a lot of people paying attention."
While plenty in the women's basketball community wanted ESPN to move Sunday's game from ESPNU to ESPN2 -- which offered an NHRA "Thrills & Spills" special and a taped World Series of Poker marathon -- the network stayed with its scheduled programming. ESPN did move Tuesday's game from ESPNU to ESPN2, and the network will show a one-hour pregame show prior to the streak-breaking game, something that rarely happens in women's basketball outside of the Final Four. ESPNU will also conduct five consecutive hours of UConn programming leading up to the ESPN2 pregame special Tuesday. Much of that programming will focus on the ethereal Moore, who was born 25 years after the UCLA streak ended. She was asked after the game the impossible question of how she views her team to the UCLA's men teams.
"Both teams I think share that level of competitiveness and an expectation level that is above everyone else's," said Moore, who is averaging 24 points and 7.3 rebounds this season. "The way they showed that was going out and competing and winning every night.
"This program is full of special people who are invested and put so much time and passion into the game. We would like people to remember how much we respect and love the game -- and I think people see that when we play."