UConn finishes up 2016 surprisingly undefeated
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) As 2016 comes to a close, Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies finished the year unbeaten.
To the casual fan that's no real surprise, as the Huskies have won four straight national championships and have earned nine titles in the past 15 years. Everyone, it seems, just expects them to win.
Still, their Hall of Fame coach admits even he's surprised with the success the No. 1 team has had this year. The 12-0 start to the season was unanticipated with what they lost to graduation and the incredibly difficult schedule he put together.
''I thought we'd go 8-5 in the non-conference, maybe 10-3,'' Auriemma reflected after Thursday night's six-point win at No. 4 Maryland. ''I am surprised. I set the schedule up so that this wouldn't happen. And it's happened.''
It's hard to blame him for those thoughts, as crazy as they may sound. Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck went 1-2-3 in the WNBA draft this past April. UConn's first 12 games featured seven opponents ranked in the Top 25, including No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Baylor and Maryland.
Yet here the Huskies stand, still unblemished as the calendar year comes to an end.
''What do you want me to tell you?'' Auriemma mused on why they've been so successful this year. ''I don't have an answer for you. I wish I did.''
Auriemma then paused, catching a glance of a 2009 All-America poster across the hallway from where he was talking at Maryland's arena.
''Look at that poster,'' he said. ''You got Maya Moore All-Pro, MVP of the WNBA; Tina Charles All-Pro, MVP of the WNBA, Olympic starter. Those were two of our greats and winning was expected. It seems much more improbable it was happening now. Maybe (the players) said we don't have any preseason All-Americans or returning All-Americans, so we want to show them that we are pretty good, too.''
So far they have done just that. The eye-popping current winning streak sits at 87, three short of their own mark set by teams with Moore and Charles.
They are in really good shape to shatter that, considering their next 12 games are conference contests and the Huskies have never lost an American Athletic Conference match. The 90th consecutive win would come at home against South Florida on Jan. 10, with No. 91 happening four days later at SMU - the same city where the Huskies hope to return in April for a shot at a fifth straight title.
When UConn last won this many consecutive games from 2008-11 there were the inevitable comparisons to the vaunted UCLA men's basketball record of 88 straight victories. They were chasing that mark. This time around, the only streak the Huskies are being compared to is their own 90-game run.
The last loss was Nov. 17, 2014 vs. Stanford.
Auriemma has said repeatedly this current run isn't nearly as big a deal. UConn's already been there and done that, so what's the difference whether it ends up with 90, 100 or some other mind-boggling number of consecutive wins.
''I really don't sit here and say how many are we going to win in a row,'' he said. ''I don't feel any pressure. I don't think our players do. They don't seem to act like it.''
His players have echoed that sentiment. They smile when the streak is brought up, politely answering questions about it and earnestly saying they don't think about it unless it's mentioned to them.
''We don't focus on streaks or records around here,'' junior Kia Nurse said. ''To be a part of it, of the two great teams that started it and this team that's continued it, has been a whirlwind. We're not chasing (the streak), we're chasing every game that we're facing that day.''
Auriemma has insisted that his team will inevitably lose.
It didn't happen in 2015 or 2016. Who knows what next year will bring?
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