Tuesday, December 21, 2010

uconn.

When it comes to sports records, I'm honestly not sure if there's one more hallowed than the UCLA men's basketball team winning 88 games in a row from 1971-1973. The mark was set with the late legend John Wooden as coach and with Lew Alcindor doing work as a Bruin. Alcindor, of course, would go on to become known later as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and set the all-time points mark in the National Basketball Association. Winning a bunch of games in a row is certainly no easy task. The all-time mark in the NBA is 33. The all-time mark in the NFL is either 23 or 21, depending on playoff inclusion. The all-time mark in the NHL is a meager 17 and the number in the MLB is 26. These are professionals playing at the highest level possible, being paid a lot of money to win. The fact that a college program set the all-time winning record is amazing. It doesn't matter if it was UCLA, a beacon for talent in an era when talent wasn't exactly well-distributed. The mark stands head and shoulders above most of the other accomplishments that are celebrated in sports.

However, the University of Connecticut has a women's basketball program that you might have head of. Head coach Geno Auriemma has done a fantastic job of guiding his teams to championships, regular season wins, and respect among basketballers of all genders. Auriemma's been at UConn since 1985 and already had a mere 70 game win-streak earlier this decade. But 70 doesn't compare to what UConn did on Sunday and what they'll continue tonight: breaking the all-time win record of those UCLA teams. After absolutely handling Ohio State, the number 10 team in the nation, on Sunday, UConn is ready to face Florida State for the record. There's little doubt they'll come away with the win and so, after that point, the question becomes: how long can this streak be stretched?

Auriemma, always the great coach, has been loathe to talk about the streak as it's been going on, but as the monkey was (almost) finally lifted from his back on Sunday night, he let loose a little. It was refreshing to see, and it was honest in a way that some people will probably be uncomfortable with.

What most needs to be said is this: Cutting through the subtle tones of sexism, or even the not-so-subtle ones, what this UConn team is about to do tonight is most likely the most impressive sports record that will be set during my lifetime. It's something that I can't imagine another team doing, even though UConn's gotten near this level already. Given how rare it is for a men's college team to have even one undefeated season, the threat will not come from that side of the bracket. Given how quickly streaks are busted in most of the pro leagues these days, the threat will not emerge from their nation either. Unbelievable as it may seem, it appears as though the greatest threat to UConn's historical dominance, whenever it ends, will be themselves.

Elite high school players should (are do) trip over themselves to get into the halls of Connecticut. Britney Griner rules the roost at Baylor and Tennessee's coach Pat Summitt may have more championships than Auriemma (likely to change this season) but UConn is the Valhalla of women's college basketball. The win streak only enhances their recruiting ability, which didn't honestly need that much help.

Those points, however, are all long-term future. For now, tonight, there's only one thing that a sport-loving American can and should do: tune into ESPN at 5 PM local time to watch a historic feat officially become history. This will be one that is a trivia question for ages. We can debate which streak is greater and we can talk about when we think it's going to end, but everyone should take at least one night to savor the moment as it happens.

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