Have you ever won 100 of anything, consecutively? Have you ever won 100 of anything at all? How many things have you ever even done 100 times that don’t involve opening your eyelids for the first time during this rotation of the earth?
If you’ll allow a phone-a-friend: my guess to all of the above is somewhere in the neighborhood between “nothing” and “cooked Ramen.” Nowhere in your lexicon of activities performed to the century can you list “won a basketball game,” because the only people alive who have done that are involved with the women’s basketball team at the University of Connecticut.
Geno Auriemma is 62 years old and has been with the Huskies since 1985. He emigrated from Italy and has built the premier sporting dynasty in the United States. The first national championship (of eleven, so far, a number which surpassed John Wooden’s record in 2016) arrived in 1995; it now seems hard to believe, even given the preeminence of the late Pat Summitt’s Tennessee Volunteers, and their stranglehold on the sport to that point, that UConn would have to wait until 2000 to claim another title.
From 2002 through this past season, UConn has claimed nine of fifteen national titles as well as five undefeated seasons, including 2015-’16. Despite sending its top three players, Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson, in the top three slots of last year’s WNBA Draft, Auriemma’s Huskies returned primed to win again, as always.
The one-hundredth victory, a 66-55 win at home over the sixth-ranked University of South Carolina on Monday night, again proved UConn’s utter dominance; the eleven-point margin is comparatively razor-thin for a team that regularly disposes of its opponents by multiples of that.
Old talking heads worry about the Golden State Warriors ruining basketball, with their ruthless efficiency causing aspiring players to dream beyond what they know. It would seem like a massive failure, then, not to worry about the UConn Huskies ruining women’s college basketball. Well, aside from the massive ratings their stream of blowouts draw, what with being the best basketball team in the tri-state area by a wide, and growing, margin. It seems a little on-the-nose to suggest players of any gender aspire to be Diana Taurasi or Maya Moore, but then – well, UConn is too good to breed duplicates anyway, so don’t bother.
UConn’s leading scorer is sophomore guard Katie Lou Samuelsson, averaging 20.8 points per game; right behind her, another sophomore guard, Napheesa Collier, is averaging 19.1 points. This is could on interminably, as if it hasn’t felt like that already. Auriemma’s effectiveness as a coach feeds into his recruiting, as it always does, but for a team which had only had one winning season before he arrived over half his life ago, the coach seems to tinker just enough to allow his players maximum possibility for creativity.
Winning a centuplicate of games is just another milestone, another way of proving that Geno Auriemma, like Summitt before him, has nothing left to prove. As the greatest championship coach in Division I collegiate history, he could retire tomorrow, and the foundation he’s left at UConn would probably still eke another title or two with Auriemma in absentia.
Sometimes, we have a tendency to look the other way out of spite when someone tells us something is really good. We adhere strictly to our native tastes and sensibilities, lest someone disrupt the familiarity we all think we have with ourselves. Tell someone to gaze at something in adulation, and they’re more likely to turn away in scorn.
Simply acknowledging that UConn is good without realizing exactly how good is doing a massive disservice to the Huskies, to college basketball in general and to women’s college basketball in particular. In this case, what we are seeing is so monumentally unprecedented – lightning stuck indefinitely in a bottle in Storrs, Connecticut – that taking it for granted has become second-nature. The minute we look away, however, this too shall pass, leaving only the largest shadow in modern college sports in its wake.