Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Props to UConn and their streak

In college basketball, no number is more revered than 88 - the consecutive wins UCLA had from 1971-74. As a UCLA fan, that number is one of many. 11 - number of overall titles. 7 - number of straight titles. But it's one of the treasures that makes the John Wooden era so beloved.

The UConn women have now surpassed it. Two consecutive undefeated seasons + 9 victories to start the season and they've stamped their own mark on college basketball. They haven't lost since 2008 and yet, people want to compare it as weaker or not as great to the UCLA streak.

1st things 1st. UCLA's competition in the early 1970's was nowhere near as competitive as the game is now, especially on the West Coast. So that talk about UConn facing nobody is moot.

UCLA had dominant players in Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes and more. UConn had them in Tina Charles and Maya Moore. UCLA won games by an average of 23.5 points and won 74 of the last 75 games by comfortable margins. UConn won by an average of 33 points and beat 30 ranked opponents, trailing only 134 minutes.

Comparing the men's and women's game is silly and irrelevant. Yes, there aren't many great teams outside of Tennessee, UConn, Stanford, Baylor (or at least it doesn't seem like it.. Yes, they don't dunk or do anything flashy. Yes, they play boring, old-school, below-the-rim, low FG-shooting basketball. Yes, most dudes can beat a team of ladies. But dominance is dominance and you have to respect how they do it.

Winning every night isn't a matter of showing up and doing it easily. It's preparing every night and not having a misstep. It's doing it in March when they usually face better competition. They got tested against Baylor and Stanford (esp. in the 2nd half) and survived. Every year, they recruit the best players but winning programs isn't about talent - it's a mindset and head coach Geno Auriemma deserves plenty of credit for keeping his players ready.

John Wooden did this, Dean Smith did it. Mike Kryzewski does it, Bob Knight did it, and so does Pat Summitt. Every great coach wins not with the best players but the best schemes.

My only gripe with the women's game is that the lack of parity creates too many superstars quickly. Chamique Holdsclaw was the greatest female player ever til Diana Taurasi got started then along came Candace Parker and then came Maya Moore. Meanwhile Cheryl Miller is sitting back like "How can y'all forget me when I'm the mother of this dominant ish."

Pat Summitt is one of the greatest coaches of the college game, male or female. Geno Auriemma is a great coach in his own right. Maya Moore (41 pts) is just as good as any great female player the game has seen. And what UConn has done will stand in its own right just like UCLA's streak.

Nobody's going to forget or devalue what UCLA did just like nobody should devalue what UConn is doing. But comparing them by gender or competition cheapens what they did. I defer to the late legend Coach Wooden who admired the women's game and would be proud to see what the Huskies did.

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