For this night, for this moment, women’s college basketball took center stage in the sports world.
Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma had to stop talking about the achievements of his Huskies to receive congratulations from President Obama about a certain winning streak.
“No,” Auriemma told the president. “We haven’t lost since you’ve been inaugurated. How about we keep it that way for another couple of years?”
Connecticut won its 89th straight game Tuesday night, running away from 22nd-ranked Florida State, 93-62, at Hartford, Conn., and surpassing the NCAA major-college record of 88 straight wins that had been recorded by the UCLA men’s teams of 1971-74 under John Wooden.
“It’s a great thing for sports,” Obama told Auriemma. “It’s something to be celebrated.”
Auriemma agreed. “Like it or not,” Auriemma said, “we made you pay attention.”
While Obama celebrated with Auriemma via telephone, the achievement was noted in person by Wooden’s grandson Greg Wooden. The coach died in June at 99 and Greg said it was the praise his grandfather had for the women’s game and in particular the play of Auriemma’s teams that prompted him to make the trip from California to Hartford.
“My grandfather was a big fan of this team,” Wooden said after Tuesday’s game that became a blowout almost from the start, when Florida State had to call timeout with 16:12 left in the first half, trailing 15-6 and unable to guard Connecticut star Maya Moore. “My grandfather thought Coach Auriemma’s teams had a lot of similarities to UCLA in how they played, always making the extra pass. It was an incredible experience.”
Moore, a senior forward, finished with a career-high 41 points and earned a big hug from Auriemma.
The final score was no surprise. During the streak Connecticut has won by an average margin of 33 points. Even so there was a sellout crowd and a passionate student section that was rewarded for its support.
While national television cameras were chronicling the record-setting victory celebration, Auriemma gave away a Nintendo Wii game system, “complete with the sports package,” Auriemma said. Wooden might not have had to reward fans with electronics, but former Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo said that was part of Auriemma’s charm.
“It’s Geno’s way of saying ‘Thank you for being there,’ ” Lobo said. “Usually he gives away t-shirts, but this was the holidays.”
Lobo was the first of many Connecticut stars and she helped Auriemma win his first national title in 1995. The Huskies threatened UCLA’s streak once before, winning 70 straight games from 2001-2003 with teams often led by Southern California high school star Diana Taurasi.
While there is disagreement about whether it’s fair to compare the accomplishments of men’s and women’s teams, Lobo said the comparison should come only about one thing.
“Both records stand for sustained excellence in college basketball,” Lobo said. “It’s ridiculous to say one team or one streak is better than the other. Appreciate them both.”
Greg Wooden said this was the first women’s game he had attended in person. He was invited into the Connecticut locker room after the victory. “I let them know my grandfather really enjoyed the way they played,” he said. “There’s not a lot of showmanship when the women play — even when they get a foul called on them they don’t complain. It was a beautiful game to watch in person, it was fun to watch.
“And I don’t feel badly at all. I look at it as two separate streaks. If people want to compare, that’s fine. Both are wonderful.”
Moore, a senior forward who is a three-time All-American and already Connecticut’s all-time leading scorer, had 10 rebounds to go with her 41 points. Freshman guard Bria Hartley had 21 points and played with the poise of an upperclassman in an atmosphere of great expectations.
“Competitive greatness, John Wooden used to say, was being at your best when your best was needed,” Auriemma said. “That’s what Maya Moore is. Maybe that’s what Bria Hartley is. That’s what Maya has done through the whole 89 games. She has been at her absolute best when needed.”
Moore scored 26 points in the first half when Connecticut built a 27-point lead.
The last team to beat the Huskies was Stanford and Connecticut will be coming west to play the eighth-ranked Cardinal after Christmas. The Huskies will aim for win No. 90 at Pacific on Dec. 28 and then meet Stanford Dec. 30 in Palo Alto.
Pucin reported from Los Angeles.
The Hartford Courant contributed to this report.