UConn's run a new women's record

72-49 rout of Georgetown is Huskies 55th win in row, breaking Division I mark

College Basketball

January 19, 2003|By THE NEW YORK TIMES

HARTFORD, Conn. - After a nervous start, Connecticut achieved a familiar and successful finish yesterday, winning its 55th consecutive game and setting a national record for Division I women's collegiate basketball.

The 72-49 victory over Georgetown did not come as dominantly and assuredly as many victories have in this streak, built on a 39-0 record last season and an unblemished 16-0 start this season. The experience, depth and overwhelming talent from the championship team of a year ago are lacking. Still, the outcome was both customary for UConn and unprecedented for the women's game.

Diana Taurasi led UConn with 22 points as the Huskies surpassed the previous record of 54 straight victories set by Louisiana Tech from 1980 to '82. A 29-13 halftime lead, tempered by unreliable shooting, expanded into inexorable victory in the final 20 minutes. Georgetown (11-3 overall, 2-2 in the Big East) finally succumbed as the Huskies kept running, passing inside for easy baskets, applying defensive pressure and, above all, playing with the cohesiveness of a determined team.

However impressive, the streak will remain safe for only 48 hours. Tomorrow, third-ranked UConn (4-0 Big East) will play at No. 21 Notre Dame, where it lost two seasons ago during the regular season. The Fighting Irish have a reputation for ending some of college athletics' most famous and celebrated streaks. The men's basketball record of 88 consecutive victories, held by UCLA, ended at Notre Dame on Jan. 19, 1974. Oklahoma's string of 47 victories in football also ended against the Fighting Irish in 1957.

The win was the 123rd in the past 127 games for UConn, which has won three national championships in the past eight seasons. For the 87th consecutive time, the Huskies sold out at home. A crowd of 16,294 packed into the Hartford Civic Center. While the top male players often leave college after a season or two for professional basketball, female players stay for four years and, especially at UConn, develop a close connection with their fans.

"It feels like they're my daughters, the way they play together as a team, support each other, appreciate their fans," said Trish Mucha, who works in the placement office at Yale but has followed the Huskies closely for six years, compiling a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and tickets and a videotape library of many games.

As yesterday's game approached, coach Geno Auriemma said he had difficulty getting too excited about the record accomplishment. This season, and this season's players, bear little resemblance to last season. He considers this a start-over year after the graduation of Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams, who won a national championship last March and became four of the first six players taken in the Women's National Basketball Association draft.

What has remained the same is the fierce dedication to winning.

"What does count is this idea that every night we go out and we try to play harder and more together and better than the team we're playing," Auriemma said. "Because of that, there's very little chance of an upset. The thing I'm most proud of is, very rarely have we lost a game where we went out and played terribly. We've gotten beat a couple of times, but we don't lose many games. There's a huge difference in that."

A certain level of expectation exists for all players, freshmen as well as seniors. Auriemma can be blunt and withering when expectations are not met.

"You expect nothing less than the best you can do," said Marci Czel, who played on the 2000 national championship team. Too often, coaches of women's teams do not demand or expect enough of female athletes, Auriemma said, and a "good try" becomes sufficient.

"Coaches don't have the same level of respect they used to have," Auriemma said. "What we can demand and extract from a player has been taken away from us. We have to give in now to today's society. We're in the business of building kids' self-esteem, of making them feel good about themselves. I agree with that 100 percent, but the way you feel good about yourself is when somebody forces you to do something you didn't think you could do."

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