Wooden Benchmark: UConn May Surpass UCLA's 88, But Would It Be Viewed The Same?

It is there for the world to see, history and legacy and immortality rolled into one hard-to-believe number with soft edges.

And yet the UConn women pretend they can't see it because to ponder the meaning might prove paralyzing for a young team.

It's this winning streak, now stretched to 78 games, encompassing two national championships.

It's the longest in NCAA Division I women's basketball history, beginning Nov. 16, 2008, against Georgia Tech and temporarily suspended on April 6, 2010, after the national championship game against Stanford.

It's the knowledge that if things go well from Nov. 14 against Holy Cross to Florida State on Dec. 21, the number will grow to 89, eclipsing one of the iconic numbers in sports history.

"We don't talk about the streak, especially in the context of ending it," UConn junior Tiffany Hayes said. "There's no reason to pressure the freshmen about keeping the streak going. We just tell them they came here to win and that's what we're going to work on. The streak is irrelevant. If we lose, we lose. The only goal we have in mind is another national championship."

From Jan. 23, 1971, to Jan. 19, 1974, the UCLA men's basketball team, coached by John Wooden, won 88 straight, in the process becoming the only men's college basketball team to post back-to-back undefeated seasons.

It's 88 that's floating there for the Huskies to touch. But would breaking it be history-making or just a women's footnote in a man's world?

"I think [the records] should be viewed differently and that they aren't the same," said ESPN's Kara Lawson, a guard with the WNBA Connecticut Sun, U.S. Olympic gold medalist and former Tennessee player. "But at the same time, UConn would have won more games than anyone else has ever done, which would provide them with the benchmark that others will chase.

"Still, I do think 88 [the UCLA's men's record] will still be a number that people will talk about, even if it's broken. People will still point at it."

In other words, in some respected viewpoints would this be a classic case of UConn's apples to UCLA's oranges?

"I think it would be a phenomenal accomplishment," ESPN's Dick Vitale said. "I don't think you need to be concerned by comparing it to Coach Wooden's era. I think both accomplishments are unique in their own way. They should be appreciated and accepted for what they've done if it happens."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma is not so sure.

"I don't expect the men's world to embrace the record, if we get there," Auriemma said. "I don't expect anyone to embrace anything that we do.

"There are some coaches who have respect for us and others that have downplayed it and chalked it up to a lack of competition. Those who have appreciated us will continue to and those who don't will pay no mind to it whatsoever. But it works both ways. There's a lot of stuff that happens in men's basketball that I pay no attention to or have any respect for."

What's certain is there are many similarities that bind these teams and their accomplishments.

They were led by All-Americans -- UCLA's Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes, Sidney Wicks and Henry Bibby; UConn's Renee Montgomery, Maya Moore and Tina Charles. They routinely pounded their opponents by huge figures. UCLA scored 100 or more in 19 of its 88 games. UConn has scored 90 or more in 19 of its 78.

And even before their streaks, their programs were at the apex.

"You have outstanding coaches in Geno and Coach Wooden, as strong a talent as there ever was assembled on the men's and the women's side at UCLA and at UConn, and a culture that is created, a level and standard of excellence that is unparalleled," said St. John's men's coach Steve Lavin, the former UCLA assistant and head men's coach from 1991 to 2003. "It starts with the architects and then it's the personnel. Then it's the standards that have been established -- the level of excellence that's been expected. When you put those all together, you've got these remarkable dynasties.

"If it happens, I think it's safe to say it would never happen again, at least in our lifetime. Maybe down the line, some guys land in flying saucers and are playing some version of hoops; at that point there might be a streak that we can't anticipate. But at least in the foreseeable future, I don't think those streaks will ever be broken."

The coaches in the Big East have suffered the brunt of the beatings. UConn has won its 78 games by an average of 32.7 points with just one win (last season's NCAA title game) by fewer than 10 points.

"This would be a basketball record," Notre Dame's Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw said. "They are playing a great schedule and if they break the UCLA mark ,they deserve to be recognized as the team with the longest winning streak, men or women. I don't see a distinction.

"I would have said it was impossible for any team to win this many in a row, but they are doing it. It's incredibly difficult."

Villanova women's coach Harry Perretta says it's the sustainability of performance that most impresses him.

"They may have recruited the best players, but they still had to [win]," Perretta said. "I think sometimes people have the tendency to want to protect their own little space. I've tried to learn over the years that if someone accomplishes something great, it is great, they did it, that's it.

"But man, when you think about it, 88 straight wins is unbelievable. I don't care how you do it, even if you have the best talent. That to me, that in itself, is the greatness of the accomplishment."

One of Auriemma's favorite expressions is "it is what it is." That's his way of shrugging off things he has no control over.

So perhaps this is what it is, a record that not everyone would be willing to embrace.

"It doesn't matter what sport you are talking about," Vitale said. "To pull off what they've pulled off is magical. I hope people pay attention to it, but I can tell you it has impressed me.

"How could you sit there and nitpick or minimize what they've achieved? They should feel proud, they should feel like a million dollars because of all the great memories it will create in their lives later on. It's so unique and so special and nobody else will have ever done it.

"The best of the best."