UConn Women's Basketball Team Shatters Record

The women's basketball team at the University of Connecticut has slam-dunked its way into the history books. The Huskies beat the record of 88 consecutive wins previously held by the 1971-74 UCLA men's basketball team. Host Michel Martin speaks with USA Today Columnist Christine Brennan about yesterday’s new record, the team's dominance and the media coverage of the event.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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But first...

Unidentified Man: Connecticut to inbound and UConn has one-upted UCLA.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: Eighty-nine consecutive wins, more than anyone in college basketball Division I history.

MARTIN: It finally happened. Last night, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team took home its 89th consecutive victory. The UConn women beat the record previously held by the UCLA men's basketball program, for the most consecutive victories in NCAA college basketball Division I history.

To talk more about this historic win and maybe the media, too, we're joined by USA Today's sports columnist Christine Brennan. She's also a regular contributor to NPR's MORNING EDITION. Welcome. Welcome back.

Ms. CHRISTINE BRENNAN (Sports Columnist, USA Today): Michel, it's great to see you. Thanks.

MARTIN: So, put this into context for us. The UCLA men's team streak occurred between 1971 and 1974. So, how significant was breaking that record?

Ms. BRENNAN: Oh, very significant, Michel. It's - first of all, to do something that's never been done before in sports is pretty remarkable and there's been a lot of college basketball played over a lot of years in this country. And, you know, number 89 is, well, 88, the UCLA number, is iconic. If you love sports, you know this number. And it was John Wooden, the great coach at UCLA, Bill Walton. It was during the Vietnam era.

But it was a team that John Wooden demanded precision and respect. And so there was a lot going on then. A lot of us remember that, at least those of us who are old enough. So, for UConn to get close, and then achieve it and then break it, I think it's certainly one of the sports stories of the year.

MARTIN: Why do you think it hasn't gotten the attention that you feel that it should have?

Ms. BRENNAN: If it was a men's team, it would've been all over everywhere. And grandmothers in produce sections in Tupelo and Toledo would've been discussing it. It's women sports. And, you know, it's easy to sit here and cry sexism and I'm not doing that. But I think it's a wakeup call, Michel, for women sports advocates, moms and dads, dads with their daughters playing sports. Women - the participation is there. We know that.

Millions and millions of girls and women playing sports in our country because of Title 9 signed in 1972 by Richard Nixon of all people; almost 40 years old. That's victory. There's no doubt there. The mainstream sports media, male dominated, the coverage has not kept up. And I think, if anything, this has been a wakeup call for a few, over a couple days, about how the mainstream sports media is not covering the big stories in women's sports.

MARTIN: You know, there's actually been some hateration about this. I mean, some people saying, I just don't care. I don't care because it's women's sports. It's just not as interesting. But let's just set aside the question of whether the women's game is the same as the men's game. 'Cause, you know, so what? You know, women's tennis isn't the same as men's tennis. But people still enjoy it.

Ms. BRENNAN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: And find it fun to watch. There are those who argue that the real issue is that there isn't as much competition overall in women's basketball so that UConn easily scoops up the best players nationally and that just makes the whole league less interesting because there just isn't the same level of competition and they point to the scores. I mean, UConn blowing people out by 50 points.

Ms. BRENNAN: Right.

MARTIN: And they say, where's the fun in that? So, what do you say to that?

Ms. BRENNAN: The point you're making is a good one. Is it easier for UConn to do this than it was for UCLA? Although you can make the case for UCLA, that was a very different men's basketball game than that's being played now. So, you know, there's certainly the breakthrough, especially among African-American players and the speed and the strength of the men's game is very different now than then. So, you know, each era has its own issues.

I wish there was more competition for UConn women because Title 9 is almost 40 years old. I'm, frankly, surprised and perplexed that there are not more women's teams rising to the challenge. Although, there are some good teams and UConn could lose this year and very well may lose this year.

MARTIN: To who? That was going to be my next question. But there you go, where is the comp?

Ms. BRENNAN: Stanford. And believe or not, December 30th, UConn has a game on the 28th, I believe. It is against Pacific, December 30th. So, you know, just a week or so away they play Stanford. And Stanford's the last team to beat UConn back in the spring of 2008. And they're good enough to maybe beat them at Stanford on December 30th. That would be - and would've won number 90. So this would've been number 91 against Stanford. I'm not predicting that Stanford could, however, beat them.

MARTIN: I do want to ask you to predict one thing, though. Just reading the sports columns this morning of people just saying openly, I really don't care. Women's sports, ho-hum, blah, blah, blah. You know, one writer, for example, who I know you know, I won't call his name, but saying, you know, that these, this whole Title 9 thing is costing this country collegiate wrestling and baseball programs, you know, as if that was in the Constitution.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But do you think that five years from now, 10 years from now, if you and I have this conversation, will still be talking about that particular aspect? The idea that women - people saying, I just don't care. Women's sports just shouldn't exist. They're not as fun, not as interesting.

Ms. BRENNAN: I think five, 10 years from now, yes, I think we'll be talking about, maybe even 20, maybe even the rest of our lifetimes. However, I think in 50 years or 100 years, it might be different and here's why. Title 9 is a new law. It's only one-and-a-half generations in our country. So, when people like that write those ridiculous things, Title 9 is a great law, I don't blame that, blame the athletic directors for making those decisions - the bottom line is, this is new. We're trying to fit the women's sports model into the men's mold. And I think men have had scores of years, over 100 years of sports. Women have only had less than 40 and I think that's the important perspective here.

MARTIN: Christine Brennan is a sports columnist for USA Today. If you want to read some of the things that she's been writing about, this issue will link to it on our site. Go to NPR.org, go to the Programs page, click on TELL ME MORE. And she was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios. And you know what? She got game. Christine, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. BRENNAN: Michel, thank you very much.

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