The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has faced an extra challenge during its record-tying 88-game winning streak: it cannot draw inspiration from losing.
The Huskies won again yesterday, defeating Ohio State University 81-50 in the Maggie Dixon Classic at New York’s Madison Square Garden to match the longest major-college winning streak in basketball.
Connecticut can surpass the John Wooden-coached UCLA men’s team that captured 88 straight victories in 1971-74 by winning at home tomorrow night against Florida State.
“Some of the best lessons you can learn in life come from when you mess up, when you fail,” said Maya Moore, who had 22 points yesterday for the Huskies. “What we are doing is harder, because you have to build that motivation from somewhere else. It’s harder to get motivated when you don’t have those losses on your record.”
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma agreed that winning teams have to guard against a sense of complacency.
“The motivator is that if you lose, you’re determined not to let that happen again,” he said in a news conference. “Well, if you win, what motivates you? That’s something that comes from deep inside you.”
Tiffany Hayes scored 26 points to lead the Huskies (10-0), who have not lost since the 2007-08 postseason and are two-time defending national champions.
UCLA, coached by Wooden and with players such as Bill Walton, won 88 straight from January 1971 to January 1974. The Bruins’ streak began after a loss at Notre Dame, and ended with another defeat at Notre Dame.
Moore, a two-time national player of the year and Connecticut’s career scoring leader, said there are similarities between her current team and the UCLA men of the early 1970s.
“Both teams I think share just that level of competitiveness and an expectation level that is just above everyone else’s,” she told reporters. “We would just like people to remember how much we respect and love the game, and hopefully they can see that when we play.”
Auriemma avoided comparing his team’s achievement to that of Wooden’s UCLA squads. Texas A&M women’s coach Gary Blair, whose team defeated Rutgers in the opening game of the Dixon Classic, said Connecticut’s streak is more impressive.
“What he’s done by beating everyone by double figures, I don’t think Wooden did that,” Blair said.
The numbers back Blair up. The Huskies have won 86 of the 88 games on their streak by 10 or more points. The UCLA men’s teams won 72 of their 88 straight wins by a double-digit margin.
Connecticut, which has seven national titles under Auriemma, has won by an average of 33 points during the streak. The Huskies have gone 237 games in a row without allowing an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent from the field.
Ohio State (8-2) shot 27 percent and Jantel Lavender, who entered the contest with a nation-leading average of 26.6 points per game, was held to 14 points on 7-for-21 shooting.
The Huskies, who were lauded with chants of “Eighty-eight, eighty-eight” by fans in the final 30 seconds, hit 50 percent of their 64 shots against the Buckeyes.
“You don’t stumble and bumble into history, you have to do it the right way,” Auriemma said. “Today was an opportunity to do something that everybody is going to remember.”
Connecticut started its streak at the beginning of the 2008-2009 season. Its last loss came to Stanford in the Final Four in 2008. The Huskies travel to Palo Alto, California, on Dec. 30 to face Stanford.
“For a team to win 88 straight in anything is a remarkable feat,” said Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, whose 850 victories put her third on the career list among women’s basketball coaches. “Every team that plays Connecticut brings its ‘A’ game.”
Moore said it’s too soon for the players to realize what they’ve accomplished.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” she said. “We know it’s something special, but we’re still in the middle of our season, so it’s kind of tough to take in the full reality of what’s going on.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup in New York at email@example.com