Dom­i­nance re­de­fined

Con­necti­cut women’s bas­ket­ball pow­er­house makes it 100 straight

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTING LIFE - HARVEY ARATON New York Times

STORRS, CONN. — One year ago, on the night af­ter Su­per Bowl Sun­day, Geno Auriemma sat along­side three stal­wart se­niors and mo­men­tar­ily imag­ined a coach­ing life with­out them. “I start to blink be­cause I look out there and start to think that th­ese three are not go­ing to be there next year,” Auriemma, the coach of the Con­necti­cut women’s bas­ket­ball pow­er­house, said af­ter a solid road vic­tory over the­nun­beaten and sec­ond-ranked South Carolina. He also ap­peared to be blink­ing away a tear or two at the thought of los­ing those three play­ers: Bre­anna Stewart, Mo­riah Jef­fer­son and Mor­gan Tuck. That mo­ment of emo­tional re­flec­tion for Auriemma, bet­ter known for biting sar­casm, came af­ter a 60th con­sec­u­tive vic­tory, to which the Huskies pre­dictably added 15 more on the way to their fourth straight (and 11th over­all) na­tional cham­pi­onship. Not many, in­clud­ing Auriemma, would have bet the mort­gage on the streaks — both in games and ti­tles — last­ing much longer. But on Mon­day night, in a sold-out and ex­pec­tant Gam­pel Pavil­ion, the Huskies made it an even 100 straight vic­to­ries, swarm­ing that same South Carolina team, 66-55, to cross the tripledigit thresh­old. The Huskies did it be­hind their do-ev­ery­thing for­wards, Gabby Wil­liams and Napheesa Col­lier. Wil­liams scored 26 points and grabbed 14 re­bounds, while Col­lier added 18 and 9. “Con­tin­u­ing what they’ve done for so many years,” said Wil­liams, re­fer­ring to past iconic Huskies, sev­eral of whom, Stewart in­cluded, watched from the stands. It starts to sound ridicu­lous, but the Huskies, 25-0 this sea­son, have not lost since Novem­ber 2014 (in over­time at Stan­ford). If not for that loss, they’d be work­ing on a streak of 148 straight. Even Auriemma sounded at a loss to ex­plain this. He set­tled on “it was meant to be” af­ter weeks of in­sist­ing that he and his play­ers never talked about No. 100. Against the 21-2 and No. 6-ranked Game­cocks, the sub­ject was un­avoid­able. And af­ter 12 suc­ces­sive blowouts in an Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence in which the Huskies have gone 75-0 since its for­ma­tion, the prospect of stiffer com­pe­ti­tion was prefer­able. With an eye on the big­ger game, the NCAA tour­na­ment, Auriemma said: “The 100-win streak isn’t all theirs. They car­ried the streak across the fin­ish line. But if they win the na­tional cham­pi­onship, it’s all theirs.” It’s not as if the act of break­ing records is new to his pro­gram. A pre­vi­ous record 90-game win­ning streak (sur­pass­ing the UCLA men’s record es­tab­lished from 1971 to 1974) was bested by the cur­rent run last month. There is no doubt that a po­ten­tial fifth straight na­tional ti­tle, and 12th over­all, is more ap­peal­ing to Auriemma. But triple dig­its in con­sec­u­tive wins rep­re­sent an­other sym­bolic ground­break­ing and pow­er­ful state­ment in the con­tin­ued ex­cel­lence of a women’s sports team. In sur­mount­ing ev­ery ob­sta­cle on a sched­ule front-loaded with top-ranked opponents, Auriemma rapidly de­vel­oped a co­he­sive Core Four to re­place a Big Three of Stewart, Jef­fer­son and Tuck, who were the top three picks of last year’s WNBA draft. “We have no pre-sea­son all-Amer­i­cans, but we have four re­ally good play­ers, and ev­ery time we need some­thing, one of them comes up with some­thing,” Auriemma said, re­fer­ring to ju­niors Wil­liams and Hamil­ton’s Kia Nurse, and sopho­mores Katie Lou Sa­muel­son and Col­lier. If this wasn’t sup­posed to be a sea­son of ex­tended dom­i­nance, the ques­tion en­ter­ing Mon­day night had evolved. Would the Huskies ever lose? “It’s not if,” Auriemma said, “it’s just when.” But if not Mon­day night, or some­time this sea­son, just when? Next sea­son, Con­necti­cut is plan­ning to suit up Azurá Stevens, a six-foot-six trans­fer from Duke, who many be­lieve would have been its best player this sea­son. The Huskies will also add Me­gan Walker, rated by some as the nation’s No. 1 high school re­cruit. They will re­turn six of their seven ro­ta­tion play­ers, the ex­cep­tion be­ing Saniya Chong, who shares the point guard po­si­tion with fresh­man Crys­tal Danger­field. With no for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent left on the con­fer­ence sched­ule, and vic­to­ries over most of its ranked opponents recorded, an in­quir­ing mind could won­der — at least un­til game time Mon­day night — whether the Huskies might in a cou­ple of years be on the doorstep of 200.

JES­SICA HILL, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

For­mer and cur­rent Con­necti­cut bas­ket­ball play­ers gather for a team pho­to­graph -- that’s Hamil­ton’s Kia Nurse, cen­tre hold­ing a bill -- af­ter win­ning their 100th con­sec­u­tive game Mon­day.

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