SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And now it's time for sports.
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SIMON: It's the NBA's All-Star Weekend, and once again, BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music, has been left off of both teams. Will either team play defense in tomorrow's game? Spoiler alert - no. Will former teammates and current adversaries Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook - both playing for the Western Conference - pass to each other or will they hire lawyers to do it? NPR's Tom Goldman is here to ignore those questions, but he'll talk about some other real basketball stars. Tom, thanks for being with us.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) My pleasure, my pleasure.
SIMON: Tonight, UConn - University of Connecticut - women's basketball team goes for win number 101 in a row. They hit that 100-straight victory milestone earlier this week - an extraordinary accomplishment, but there have been some dissonant voices, too, haven't there?
GOLDMAN: There sure have because we're talking about women's sports. There always are. Those doubters minimize the streak, Scott, because the Huskies are so absurdly dominant. The average margin of victory for the 100 wins - 38 points. They minimize what head coach Geno Auriemma does because he has the best players. But like any great head coach with great players, it's what he does with those players, right? He fits them into a system. He pushes them to be even greater. He's a great coach, and he certainly got that message from his university with a reported new five-year contract worth at least 13 million bucks.
SIMON: I want to mention a women's college team that's - you know, it is as far away from UConn as you can get, except maybe in that indefinable element of character, and that's Chicago State. The Cougars are in the midst of an epic losing streak, and I know you talked to their head coach this week.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, I did. We talked about her team being 0 and 24. We talked about the difficulties at Chicago State. It's a public university that serves a lot of low-income students, and it's been in dire straits recently. State funding is way down as it is with all public universities in Illinois. They've had a woeful graduation rate, but the Cougar - and the Cougars are struggling like their school. Zero and 24 is the longest current losing streak in Division I women's basketball. But there are some positive things going on. That head coach, Angela Jackson, she's now in her 14th year at Chicago State, and she's impressed by her players' attitudes as the losses have mounted. Here she is.
ANGELA JACKSON: That's the amazing thing about this group. It hasn't been, oh no, here we go again. You know, I don't see the shoulders slumping. I don't see the heads going down. They're still up. They're still clapping. They're still fighting. We've just come out on the losing end of it.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, now Angela Jackson's really proud of her players, but she doesn't treat them like heroes. I asked her if she gets mad at her team. Here's what she said.
JACKSON: Every day (laughter) - I'm still a coach, and I'm still competitive. You don't, you know, go out there and come out on the short end and your competitive nature doesn't kick in, so absolutely.
SIMON: Tom, why can't they seem to win a game?
GOLDMAN: You know, you would think maybe it's because they're not talented. That's not it. Coach Jackson says it's mainly about numbers. The Cougars started the season with nine players, then one transferred, one blew out her knee, one got a concussion. So for 18 of their 24 games, they have played with six players. The coach says they've been close in a lot of games, but, you know, when the fourth quarter comes around, they simply run out of gas.
SIMON: Yeah. Coach Jackson has a lot of admirers. She could get a job at a lot of other places, right?
GOLDMAN: Yes, she could, yeah, but she really doesn't think about that right now. See, she says if she gives up, her kids are going to give up. And she says they don't want to, you know, they don't deserve to be shortchanged, but it's not all doom and gloom. She says the team has improved during the season, although the record doesn't reflect that. She talks about individual players who've improved. Chicago State plays today, Scott, against Missouri-Kansas City. The Cougars will try to get that first win.
SIMON: Tom, I went on their website last night, and I ordered a sweatshirt.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) All right.
SIMON: I got to tell you, Chicago State sweatshirt - had to, good colors...
GOLDMAN: The fan club grows, yeah, excellent.
SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much for being with us.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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