NCAA hoops: UConn women have UCLA streak in sight
By MIKE LOPRESTI
SAN ANTONIO - What now for the women of Connecticut?
Well, there are always the men of UCLA. We'll get to them in a minute.
The 78th win in a row was not quite the coronation expected Tuesday night. There was a perfect season. There was a second consecutive championship. But this was settled in single digits, 53-47 over Stanford, something the other 77 were not.
This one needed a comeback and hanging on at the end, things nobody could be certain these Huskies had in them, since they had never been needed - no more than Eskimos need a beach volleyball net.
"People asked," Geno Auriemma said, "what are you going to do the first time you're in a close game?"
So, is everyone happier now?
The team accused of winning too often by too many had to fight to win Tuesday night at all, mostly because Connecticut went the longest time in San Antonio unable to hit the river from the walk.
The Huskies took 29 shots the first half, missed 24 of them, bricked all four free throws and went 10 minutes without a point. That made it a game, but you could question how good that was for women's basketball.
They had to be revived by Maya Moore's 23 points. But then, that is what national players of the year do.
Poor Stanford; 0-2 against Connecticut this season, 36-0 against the rest of the planet.
But the deed was done, so let's talk streak. It lives on at 78, to go into summer hiatus. The Huskies have been noticeably reluctant to even mention the thing, while the championship was still in play. "We have to keep our eye on the prize," Tiffany Hayes said the other day. "The streak is irrelevant."
Now it isn't. Come next season, UCLA's extraordinary 88-gamer will be within sight.
Are any of John Wooden's guys getting nervous? One of them showed up Monday night at the men's championship game in Indianapolis. Bill Walton was in the house, and since he was the main Bruin during the streak, it seemed a good time to find out if he was even aware of the threat from across the gender line.
Aware? It was like talking to the president of the Geno Auriemma Fan Club.
"What a great program," Walton began. "They remind me so much of UCLA with John Wooden. North Carolina with Dean Smith and Roy Williams. And Mike Krzyzewski.
"I love the way they play. I love the team game. I love the execution. I love everybody involved. The defense, the fast break, the passing."
But Bill, Bill ... they're crowding in on your turf.
"What better dream, what better vision, to have something so great. It is a thing of beauty."
But ... but ...
"It's great for women's basketball because we're seeing the evolution. This current Connecticut team will drive a whole generation."
Bill ... 88 straight, remember?
"We had our chance. We had our time. And we couldn't get it done."
Couldn't get what done? One hundred in a row?
Anyway, it is clear that Auriemma has Walton's blessing.
Not that the Connecticut coach thinks he's going to need it. He figures the streak won't get to 88.
Auriemma looks at graduating two senior starters, including All-American Tina Charles. He sees the probability he'll have to lean on several freshmen. He realizes the shark tank next season that passes for his non-conference schedule.
Connecticut plays five teams that were in this year's Elite Eight and all three that were in the Final Four. If Mike Krzyzewski looked at his schedule next fall and saw that, he'd need sedated.
"Its not going to happen," Auiremma said.
Walton won't mind if it does. He is not on board with the concept that a team can win too much for a game's own good.
"When UCLA was dominating everything, that wasn't the end, that was the beginning," he said.
So, to the man who once won 88 straight, is it possible?
"It's easier today," Walton said. "You play so many more games in a season."
But harder to win them, maybe.
"Not if you're good. And Connecticut is good."