Now They Are 70-1

Times Staff Writer

The unimaginable happened Wednesday. The Big Dogs were stared down by a small pack of Wildcats.

In the biggest upset in women's college basketball in several seasons, No. 18 Villanova defeated No. 1 Connecticut, 52-48, to win the Big East Conference tournament before 4,396 at Piscataway, N.J.

The win ended the Huskies' Division I record 70-game winning streak, dating to a Final Four loss to Notre Dame in the 2001 NCAA tournament.

Connecticut (31-1) had won nine consecutive Big East championships before Wednesday. It had won 51 in a row against conference opponents and hadn't lost a conference tournament game since 1993. And the Huskies had beaten the Wildcats (25-5) 18 times in a row, including a 53-38 victory in January.

"Our team has had some unbelievable big games against very, very good opponents," Wildcat Coach Harry Perretta said. "The key is good kids who are unselfish and team players.

"I am in shock. I asked my assistant coach after the game, 'Did we win?' He said 'Yeah, Einstein.' "

Trish Juhline, who was 5 years old when Villanova won its last Big East tournament in 1986, had 18 points. Nicole Druckenmiller had 11 and was the key to a 17-2 run in the second half that made the impossible possible.

"We still can't believe it happened," Juhline said. "You should have seen us in the locker room."

Connecticut players struggled to explain the loss.

"We're used to their style of play," said Diana Taurasi, who led Connecticut with 13 points. "But we just didn't execute [the game plan] that was drawn up."

Coach Geno Auriemma thought the loss would be good for his team.

"We could go one of two ways," Auriemma said. "We'll find out if this loss absolutely devastates them and we lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Or we go back and look in the mirror. You're not supposed to win every game."

That didn't keep Auriemma's temper from flaring when a reporter kept asking how he would get his team to respond to the loss.

"This is just a game, not the end of the world," Auriemma said. "But every question you ask is like, we should cancel the season because we just lost. We'd just won 70 straight; did it have anything to do with this one? Sometimes we miss shots, sometimes the other team makes shots."

The Wildcats didn't make many, shooting 34% (15 of 33). But the Huskies shot worse -- 30% (15 of 42). Even the irrepressible Taurasi couldn't bail out Connecticut. The Big East player of the year was five of 17 from the field and missed all seven attempts from three-point range, including several attempts in the last two minutes when the Huskies were trying to rally.

"We couldn't get anything going on either end of the court," Taurasi said. "We tried to shoot outside, get the ball inside -- there was no rhythm."

Villanova's style is to dictate the tempo by using every second of the shot clock on offense. And more often than not, opponents get frustrated and try to speed up the tempo.

It happened to Connecticut. Although the Huskies led by nine points early in the second half, Auriemma noted his team kept trying to "hurry up the game. And we're not mature enough to handle that kind of stuff."

Said Perretta: "[Our style] has worked in the past but sometimes we're not physically talented enough to win. When we've played nationally ranked teams, we usually hold them under their average, but usually we can't get enough points to win. But the only way you beat a superior, balanced opponent is to limit their possessions in the game. I don't know any other way of doing it."

Perretta dismissed questions that Connecticut was suddenly vulnerable.

"What are they, 70-1? I don't think that's much of a problem," Perretta said.

"Sometimes people will overreact and ask 'What's wrong?' Nothing's wrong. They lost one game in their last 71. I'd like to win 70 in a row.

"You also cannot compare their team to last year. Last year's team, in my opinion, was the best women's team of all time. So that's unfair, too."

Villanova has won four in a row.



Longest women's Division I win streaks:


Connecticut, 2001-03


La. Tech, 1980-82


Tennessee, 1996-98


Texas, 1985-87


Purdue, 1998-2000


Connecticut, 1994-96


Connecticut, 1996-97

Men: UCLA men hold the NCAA record for consecutive victories -- 88 (1971-74); Note: The all-time women's college basketball winning streak is 81, by Division III's Washington (Mo.), 1998-2001.


Streak Busters

How some other major streaks came to an end:


1916 New York Giants 26 games

Sept. 30 at New York -- Boston's Lefty Tyler shut down the Giants in the second game of a doubleheader, helping the Braves to an 8-3 victory.


1957 Oklahoma 47 games

Nov. 18 at Norman, Okla. -- Notre Dame's Dick Lynch scored on a four-yard run on fourth down in the fourth quarter to give the Irish a 7-0 victory, ending an Oklahoma streak that began in 1953


1971-72 Lakers 33 games

Jan. 9 at Milwaukee -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 39 points sparked Milwaukee in a 120-104 decision.


1973-74 UCLA 88 games

Jan 19 at South Bend, Ind. -- The Bruins hadn't lost since the 1970-71 season before Dwight Clay's basket with 29 seconds to play and five UCLA misses in the last 10 seconds gave Notre Dame a 71-70 victory.


Associated Press contributed to this story.

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