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Hail to the Huskies

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It was yet another empowering landmark reached by an amazing group of athletes, yet it felt hollow and forced.

Because, once again, a triumph by women was measured against something achieved by men.

Everyone is chortling about the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team breaking the UCLA men’s record 88-game winning streak Tuesday, except, well, they didn’t. Different game. Different league. Different records.

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Everyone is yakking about how Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma is the new John Wooden except, well, he’s not. Different game. Different league. Different coaches.

After his Huskies shredded Florida State, 93-62, Auriemma said the right thing in referring to the Bruins’ 1971-74 streak, telling an interviewer, “I’m not John Wooden and this isn’t UCLA. This is Connecticut and for us, this is good enough.”

But earlier, his team and its fans didn’t act like it.

It was less of a game than a celebration, fans waving, “89” signs in the stands, players wearing “89” T-shirts afterward, Auriemma even leaving his star Maya Moore in the game in the final two minutes with his team leading by 32 points.

At the final buzzer, the ESPN announcer summed up the atmosphere by claiming, “UConn has one-upped UCLA!”

It has not. It cannot. Why would it even want to?

“By saying those sort of things, people not only take credit away from UCLA, but they take credit away from Connecticut,” said Nan Muehlhausen, John Wooden’s daughter, in a phone interview. “If Daddy was alive, he would be very happy for them, he loved women’s basketball. But why can’t they celebrate for what they are?”

A more enduring question, perhaps, is why do we keep doing this to women’s sports? Why do we keep judging their achievements by those of their male counterparts? Why can’t we just celebrate great female athletes for being, you know, great female athletes?

It’s a waste of precious time, attention and the ideals of gender equity. It’s not equal if you act as if the men’s game is so much more important, you celebrate breaking a men’s record as if you just won a championship.

It’s sort of like the excitement over a woman dunking. Why? Who cares if a woman can dunk? That is not why fans love women’s basketball. That’s not what the sport is about. You never hear a female soccer player trying to compare herself to Beckham, do you? That’s because women’s soccer, especially in our World-Cup winning country, doesn’t need to be anything else.

The female Huskies indeed broke an incredible record Tuesday night -- they broke their own record of 88 consecutive wins. Auriemma is indeed a great coach who should be compared to other great coaches -- such as Tennessee’s Pat Summitt and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer.

This should have been yet another night to embrace the fundamental beauty of the women’s game and the incredible consistency of Connecticut in owning it. Instead, TV viewers were treated to cutaway shots of Bill Walton’s hooks and Jamaal Wilkes’ jumpers. It felt like watching a baseball team attempting to break a record set by football players.

It felt like Sept. 3, 1977. Do you remember that day? Of course not. But judging by Tuesday’s parameters, it was one of the biggest days in sports, the day that Japanese league star Sadaharu Oh hit his 756th career home run, breaking Hank Aaron’s major league career record.

The achievement was nice, but the comparison a little silly, Oh and Aaron playing the same sport but in vastly different lands. We slapped a few paragraphs about it in our newspapers and forgot about it a day later.

It should have been the same thing Tuesday. Instead of all the references to UCLA, folks should have focused on Wayland Baptist, a women’s team that won 131 consecutive games from 1953 to 1958. But no, folks say, that team played a completely different game in a vastly different era, so the comparison doesn’t work.

But tying the Connecticut women to the UCLA men does work?

Give credit to the Wooden family for acting as classy as always, with grandson Greg Wooden flying to Hartford and sitting courtside at the game.

When asked about his grandfather and Connecticut, Greg told an interviewer, “He would have been thrilled for them. Absolutely thrilled. It’s obvious the Wooden family is very supportive of Connecticut breaking the record. It’s history. It’s a neat place to be.”

But Nan is right. Why can’t Connecticut be there without giving the impression that it is standing on UCLA’s shoulders?

Nan didn’t watch the Connecticut game Tuesday. She was busy driving to the UCLA men’s game against Montana State. As much as her father loved women’s basketball, if he were alive, he would have probably been headed to the same game.

“It’s still a great streak, but it’s just different,” Nan said.

Different isn’t always worse. Sometimes different is just different. Can’t Connecticut win without UCLA losing?

The Huskies have the best college women’s basketball program in history, and shame on all of us if they need to play against the specter of a men’s team to prove it.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke


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