UConn Could Break UCLA's Winning Streak Tuesday

The University of Connecticut women's basketball team will go for their 89th straight win Tuesday night. That would break the record set by John Wooden's legendary UCLA men's teams of the early 1970s.

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The University of Connecticut women's basketball team is poised to set the NCAA record for consecutive games won by any college team - men's or women's. Tonight, UConn plays host to Florida State. If the Huskies win - and we did say if, Florida State fans - it would be Connecticut's 89th straight victory. That would surpass the record set by the UCLA men's teams of the '70s that were coached by the legendary John Wooden. One challenge for UConn is to keep their edge, even when they've already won so often. NPR's Mike Pesca reports.

MIKE PESCA: The burgeoning ranks of reporters trailing the UConn women have been asking variations of the same questions for a while years even. The Huskies had just obliterated Ohio State at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Junior guard Tiffany Hayes was being asked about losing as one would speak of condo prices to a member of a pre-Columbian tribe that lacked the concept of private ownership.

Losing a game have you heard about it? What do you think it's like? Her teammate all American senior Maya Moore, chimed in. Unlike Hayes, Moore, has lost, twice, three seasons ago. She says that losing still motivates.

Ms. MAYA MOORE (Basketball player, University of Connecticut): You know, when we practice coach puts us in tough situations all the time. You know, when we're playing a defensive drill he'll put, you know, almost double the guys out there that we have to play against. We lose sometimes.

PESCA: That's probably not much of a tip to opposing coaches - that UConn is vulnerable to the ten defender defense. If you really want to know what makes UConn special, you have to listen closely. As a reporter asked Hayes a question about the team's greatness, UConn coach Geno Auriemma quietly leaned over to Moore and pointed to the game's stat sheet. He whispered, but the microphone was live.

Mr. GENO AURIEMMA (Coach, University of Connecticut): You missed a lot of layups today.

PESCA: You missed a lot of layups today.

Mr. AURIEMMA: That's horrendous.

PESCA: Horrendous.

Mr. AURIEMMA: Four turnovers.

PESCA: Four turnovers.

Mr. AURIEMMA: Zero offensive (unintelligible).

PESCA: Zero offensive rebounds. Ugh.

That's Auriemma. Intense, unrelenting and expert. In fact, UConn may be almost too good. The essence of a winning streak is length, 88 games long, but consider the depth of the UConn streak. They've beaten every opponent except two by double digits. They take good teams, like this Ohio state team recently ranked in the top 10 nationally, and make them look so bad that spectators think it's easy for the Huskies.

Auriemma has professed ambivalence about the streak, and he's fielded some criticism for downplaying it.

Mr. AURIEMMA: You know, I have people in women's basketball that have a problem when I talk like that. They think like I'm Joan of Arc carrying a torch for the whole game. That if we beat the record we're better than men's, we're better than John Wooden, we're better than anybody. And I just could give two rips about that.

PESCA: That was five weeks ago. Two days ago, Auriemma was sounding more like a crusader.

Mr. AURIEMMA: If we were breaking a woman's record everybody would go aren't those girls nice. Just give them two paragraphs in USA Today, you know. And give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and let's send them back where they belong in the kitchen. But because we're breaking a men's record we got a lot of people paying attention.

PESCA: With a win tonight, Auriemma's opinion about the streak won't be as important as the accomplishment itself. And as I'm sure he'll tell his team, the biggest accomplishment is that they can put talk of record books behind them and focus on yet another championship.

Mike Pesca, NPR News.

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