Let the debate begin. Since the University of Connecticut women established a new Division I basketball record with their 89th consecutive victory, should their streak be recognized as the greatest team success in the history of basketball? Or, is comparing their success to John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins like comparing apples and oranges?
Let me qualify this discussion by reminding you that for the first eight years of my University of Montana radio play-by-play career, I broadcast Lady Griz games when the team dominated both the Mountain West and Big Sky conferences.
I think I have standing in both men’s and women’s games.
Ironically, Wooden often talked about women’s collegiate basketball as being the purest form of the game. His grandson, Greg, was in attendance when UCLA’s record streak of 88 straight wins was broken by UConn and he spoke at length of his grandfather’s admiration and enjoyment of the women’s game.
By the purest form of the game, Wooden meant that shooting from long range and playing above the rim is more dominant in the men’s game than on the women’s side, where sets, screens and precise passing pay more dividends than high-flying dunks.
I believe the biggest reason for the increased following of the women’s game, along with Wooden’s description, is that the game constantly moves at so many levels that fans can watch the subtle actions away from the ball. Following the action is often easier and the physical side of the game is less apparent, although it surely exists more than some fans realize.
Predictably, the women’s game has evolved to the point where dunks do occur, at least in break-away situations, and a greater degree of athleticism now is displayed, especially on the top teams, than when Wooden took that stance more than a decade ago.
Head Coach Gino Auriemma put it all in perspective when he said he didn’t want his team or even himself compared to Wooden or his Bruins but rather to let the accomplishment stand on its own merit.
UConn’s dominance of the women’s game is simply unbelievable and even being able replicate their own 70-game streak in 2001-2003 is beyond belief.
But while the top teams in women’s basketball are remarkable, I have to question whether during their run to 89 straight victories, the UConn women played the level of competition that Wooden’s teams tangled with from 1971 to 1974.
Maybe the schedules are comparable. Granted, the UConn women play all comers and the top tier of women’s hoop is amazing. But it is far from superb during the league schedule.
No, I don’t want an asterisk or a different category created to mark the difference between the two streaks.
What UConn accomplished, again, is remarkable and stands on its own. But recognize, at least, in the course of the discussion the differences in the respective streaks.
So I ask you, without prejudice, is it apples or oranges? You decide.
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