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Auriemma needs to shut his mouth and let his team do the talking

Geno Auriemma is an entertaining guy. The brash, amusing UConn coach has been great for women's basketball.

But what he did on Sunday wasn't great for women's basketball.

He used his hard-earned spotlight to pout. He took a sacred moment for his sport as an opportunity to whine. He turned his team's grand accomplishment into a petty gender war.

And he was simply wrong.

Here's what Auriemma said after the UConn women won their 88th consecutive game on Sunday to tie the UCLA men's record wining streak:

"I just know there wouldn't be this many people in the room if we were chasing a woman's record," he said. "The reason everybody 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 everybody is all up in arms about it.

"All the women are happy as hell and they can't wait to come in here and ask questions. All the guys that loved women's basketball are all excited, and all the miserable bastards that follow men's basketball and don't want us to break the record are all here because they're pissed. That's just the way it is.

"Because we're breaking a men's record, we've got a lot of people paying attention. If we were breaking a women's record, everybody would go, 'Aren't those girls nice, let's give them two paragraphs in USA Today, give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and then let's send them back where they belong, in the kitchen.' "

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Auriemma was trying to be funny. His press conferences are -- hands down -- the best of any regular attendee at either the men's or women's Final Four. And you could hear the hint of sarcasm in his voice when he went on his rant.

But it was bad timing. It was shrill. His divisive and combative approach to a revered moment wasn't necessary.

Back to the kitchen? Really?

You almost wonder if he heard some talk show host trying to stir up controversy by badmouthing UConn and took the bait. Does he really think Bryant Gumbel, the host of HBO Real Sports who recently seemed loathe to speak of UConn and UCLA's accomplishments in the same breath, is the arbiter of all basketball taste? Is he lowering himself to reading the Neanderthals' comments posted online about women's hoops?

Here's the truth: very few people are "up in arms" about a women's team breaking the UCLA streak. The ones who don't appreciate it (the "miserable bastards" that Auriemma refers to) are actually just ignoring it. They couldn't tell Maya Moore from Mary Tyler Moore. They're just not paying attention.

But the majority of people understand the grand accomplishment. Most sports fans admire what UConn is about to do. Women's basketball fans (and the late John Wooden was among them) appreciate the excellence. Sports fans who don't regularly pay attention to women's basketball understand that something rare and significant is happening.

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Auriemma has commanded great attention for the past two-plus years, while his team has engineered this streak. UConn has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and had a four-page story in a recent issue on the streak. The team gets regular hometown attention on Connecticut-based ESPN. It is the subject of huge stories in The New York Times and USA Today. The team draws packed houses.

UConn's 88th win came with far more notice than UCLA's 88th win did. For one thing, UCLA was so dominating that no one knew when -- or even if -- the streak would end. For another, there are more media outlets and wall-to-wall coverage of everything now as opposed to then. It was only when UCLA's streak ended in January 1974, to undefeated Notre Dame, that the Bruins were back making big national headlines.

UConn will make headlines tonight, by besting UCLA's streak. Anyone who tries to compare the two streaks does so at their peril -- different sports, different time periods, different all the way around.

But when the streak is broken people will applaud. No one will be truly furious --though Auriemma's comments almost guarantee that some pundit will insist that UConn isn't worthy to walk in UCLA's shoes. That's the knee jerk reaction of sports commentary. Accomplish something and someone will try to belittle it.

If Auriemma is bent out of shape because he doesn't think his team is treated with the same reverence as UCLA, maybe he needs to wait three or four decades and see how it's viewed. If Auriemma wishes he was treated with the same admiration as Wooden, perhaps he needs to invent a pyramid of success, mellow out on the sideline and become beloved. When Auriemma retires, he'll be considered a legend, a quotable one at that. But he and Wooden are polar opposite in terms of personality.

And if some day, another team gets close to UConn's streak, even if it's another women's team, it will get plenty of attention. More than just "two paragraphs in USA Today" (though who knows what the state of newspapers will be that far off in the future).

The streak is a testimony to excellence, day in and day out. Every sports fan can appreciate that.

When UCLA's streak was over, Wooden told his team to handle it professionally. He said, "Winners do the talking, losers keep quiet."

Auriemma seems to have taken that advice to heart. He won. He did the talking -- too much talking. And he sullied his otherwise grand moment.

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