The UConn women's basketball team is about to set an NCAA record with its 89th consecutive victory. Somewhere else, people can celebrate the achievement. Here, I'll mourn it for what it is:
The death of competition.
UConn isn't winning games by savvy and pluck. The Huskies are demolishing teams, running them off the road like an angry tractor-trailer. You there, in the sedan? Get the hell out of UConn's way.
|Geno Auriemma has an embarrassment of riches, and it makes a mockery of women's college basketball. (AP)|
Which means it was one of the Huskies' closer games of the season.
Already this season UConn has won by scores of 112-41 and 117-37. UConn beat Howard 86-25. This isn't a one-year blip, either. Last season UConn won games 105-35, 80-45 and 90-35. To get to the 2010 Final Four, the Huskies had to first get through the Elite Eight by beating No. 9 Florida State, which had gone 29-5 and won the ACC.
UConn won by 40.
None of this is good for women's basketball, which I admit to not caring a whole lot about. Even with Title IX paving the way for women athletes since 1972 -- and costing this country more than 100 collegiate wrestling and baseball programs along the way -- the talent pool for women's basketball remains shallow. Check out the scores on any given day, and you'll see grotesque, high school-level blowouts. It's not just UConn blowing out the No. 11 Buckeyes. It's Duke blowing out undefeated Oklahoma State 73-45. And Stanford blowing out two-loss Fresno State 77-40. And Iowa State blowing out Columbia 73-27. And that was just one day last week.
Women's college basketball doesn't interest me, but UConn coach Geno Auriemma piqued my interest after the Ohio State takedown when he accused any man who doesn't embrace the streak of being a sexist pig. He said some men are "having a heart attack [because] a bunch of women are threatening to break a men's record."
I don't embrace this streak, so Auriemma is calling me a sexist pig. Fine. Let me give some attention to his sport and to his streak -- and let me inform you, gentle reader, of how this streak happened:
UConn has 11 players on its roster.
Eight were McDonald's All-Americans.
The same thing happened with the UCLA men's teams of the early 1970s, by the way. UCLA was so loaded, 6-foot-11 center Swen Nater -- stuck behind All-American Bill Walton -- barely played. Then he was drafted in the first round by teams in the ABA and the NBA, and in 11 professional seasons he averaged a double-double. In those days, UCLA landed the best talent because players wanted to go where they would win, yes, but also because UCLA had college basketball's original sugar daddy, a rich booster named Sam Gilbert who showered players with the three C's: cash, clothes and cars.
(Yo, Geno: If the previous paragraph makes me a sexist pig interested in protecting the UCLA men's dynasty, tell me how. Otherwise, shaddup.)
These UConn women are even more loaded than those UCLA teams, but there's not a part of me that thinks the Huskies have a Sam Gilbert. What the Huskies do have is an astounding lack of imagination. There are only a handful of truly great women's basketball recruits, and almost all of them want to play for UConn. Why? Because winning is fun. And competing is hard. So while the occasional Brittney Griner or Courtney Paris plays for Baylor or Oklahoma, the best of the best typically show up in Storrs every year, join Auriemma's all-star team and destroy anyone stupid enough to schedule the Huskies.
Some more UConn scores from this season: 86-32, and 81-38, and 100-41.
And we're supposed to applaud? Go ahead, if you must. Me, I'm scratching my head. Just like I was mystified this summer when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh gamed the NBA free-agent system to land in Miami together, I'm mystified by the way the top women's recruits rush to Storrs. Whatever happened to seeking a challenge? To wanting to compete?
Practice is the only competition the typical UConn signee will ever face. They have to win playing time, but either way they'll be on a team almost guaranteed to win 35-plus games and reach the Final Four -- UConn has been there eight times in the last 11 years -- and to win a national title every other season. The Huskies have won six in 11 years.
And they might never lose again. Consecutive victory No. 89 comes Tuesday night, when UConn plays -- like it matters whom UConn plays -- Florida State. The Seminoles are ranked 22nd, which means this ought to be a good game. But it won't be.
Of UConn's 88 straight wins, 86 have been by 10 points or more. Against ranked teams like Florida State, UConn has won by an average of 25 points per game. Against unranked teams? That's when you see scores like 117-37. It's not like Auriemma is running up the score, either. As the game gets out of hand and the other team puts in scrubs, Auriemma puts in McDonald's All-Americans. That's all he has.
I won't celebrate this streak, but I can't pretend it isn't happening. It's pretty telling, though, that we're about to see the longest streak in college basketball history.
And the nicest thing I can do is ignore it.