UConn Women's Basketball Team Makes History

The University of Connecticut women's basketball team beat Ohio State 81 to 50 on Sunday, matching the all-time NCAA basketball winning streak. NPR's Mike Pesca talks to host Guy Raz about the blowout win and the Huskies' chances of breaking the record Tuesday night.

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GUY RAZ, host:

A landmark moment today for women's college basketball.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

Unidentified Man: And Connecticut has done it. They have equaled UCLA. They have won 88 in a row.

RAZ: That's the call from ESPN today as the University of Connecticut Huskies tied the all-time win streak in NCAA basketball. Back in the early '70s, the UCLA men also won 88 in a row. Since then, no college team of either gender has even come close.

NPR's Mike Pesca was at Madison Square Garden today for the game. And Mike, UConn blew out Ohio State 81 to 50. That's been pretty much the way they have played all the way through this streak, isn't it?

MIKE PESCA: Yeah. And Ohio State is a good team. And that's one of the things that UConn does. They make good teams look bad, which maybe some observers would say, well, really, can you compare UCLA to UConn? Is UConn's level of competition that good? They really are that good. It's just that UConn is so much better.

In today's game, Ohio State hit a couple of three-pointers early, and they got a zero to six lead. The next 13 points were by UConn, and they never looked back. And the way they did it, they just played absolutely stifling defense. And like I said, a good Ohio State team, a team that knows how to score, just couldn't put the ball in the basket, whereas Connecticut's players played with poise, played with confidence, and they're just an extraordinary team and a great team to watch.

RAZ: Mike, after the game, were UConn's players and coaches downplaying the streak, embracing it?

PESCA: Yeah. They've had a little bit of a love-hate relationship to the streak because the streak means pressure. But they don't seem that phased by it if you look at the record.

Now, you know, in the post-game press conference, reporters asked great players like junior Tiffany Hayes: Hey, Tiffany, this is your third year with the team. What do you think losing would be like? Because she's never experienced a loss.

And UConn's coach, Geno Auriemma, he's one of these great guys who, in his press conferences and in interviews, he's profound. He has aphorisms. But if you really analyze what he says, he's frequently self-contradictory. And I think the simplest - sometimes he says, you know what? If we lose, it's not going bum me out that much.

RAZ: Right.

PESCA: And sometimes he says, I really want to win. But it's just because it's such a unique position to be in. Of course, he wants to win every game he can, but he also points out it wouldn't be the end of the world, and you're going to lose sometime. So he embraced that. I just think he doesn't want it to be their next game, where they would pass UCLA.

RAZ: So put this into perspective for us. I mean, how does the UConn women's dominance compare to, say, John Wooden's UCLA teams back in the '70s?

PESCA: Right. And like you said, the early '70s, and by the time they were done winning, it was the mid-'70s.

RAZ: Right.

PESCA: That's how long these win streaks are. Very hard to compare because you're talking cross-gender, you're talking cross-generations. But the big thing to think about is, I think people just naturally - they remember a lot of the names on the UCLA teams, and they remember Bill Walton, and those are NBA Hall of Famers. And people who follow basketball maybe consciously or subconsciously just think that the men have a tougher slog because they're playing other men.

But there are a couple mitigating factors, like UCLA in NCAA tournaments had an easier time of it because the rules were not all the best teams used to make the tournament.

Also, UCLA had a real big recruiting advantage. At that time, if you were a great player, you just went to UCLA. And UConn, it seems that UConn gets all the great players, but it's not true. It's just that they get enough good players. And Auriemma is a very good coach.

RAZ: So Mike, UConn will face Florida State on Tuesday night, and they're going to try to break that UCLA record. They're going to try to beat it. If they do, are we looking at another undefeated season for the UConn Huskies?

PESCA: Right. So they - to get to the streak, they've done two undefeated seasons. I don't think so. It's just that they only have five or six players in the rotation. It will be very hard to go undefeated.

But they could get the streak. I've circled one date on the calendar, February 19th against Notre Dame, a good team. And Notre Dame men, they were the team that beat UCLA. So maybe they can do it with their women's team too.

RAZ: That's NPR's Mike Pesca in New York.

Mike, thank you.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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