You can count Washington Huskies men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar - a Los Angeles native and former UCLA men's basketball assistant coach - among those who once considered UCLA's streak of 88 consecutive wins from 1971-1974 unbreakable.
"I never thought anyone, men or women, would come close to tying that record," said Romar, when asked about the #1 Connecticut Huskies women's basketball team beating the #10 Ohio State Buckeyes 80-51 yesterday in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden to tie UCLA's record at 88 games. "So it's pretty phenomenal that something like that happens."
And it seems everyone has some kind of opinion about what UConn has accomplished, though not everyone has responded quite as positively as Romar.
For all of the positive press about the streak, there are plenty who might suggest that they shouldn't be compared either because they're a women's basketball team which a) is a different game and/or b) inferior to men's basketball.
While everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion, Romar has some sense of what it takes to to get to, or rather, fall well short of 88. And he isn't entertaining the idea that the gender of who is playing makes that much of a difference to the significance of the accomplishment.
"I haven't thought about that," said Romar, when asked whether UConn and UCLA should be compared because of the gender difference. "I've thought about 88 games is pretty good."
Similar to Romar, UW junior forward Darnell Gant - also a Los Angeles native who was going to attend UCLA but changed his mind - isn't focused on their gender, but on their accomplishment.
"Regardless of whether it's a female sport or male sport or whatever sport it is or whether there's less competition, 88 wins in a row is 88 wins in a row," said Gant, when asked whether the two streaks are comparable. "That's hard to do in anything. Regardless of who it is, male or female. So I commend them - great job. And I think they're going to keep going, they're gonna beat that."
Gant is right that they're probably going to beat that record - tomorrow UConn plays #15/14 Florida State who just lost to Yale University on Saturday. That's right, Ivy League Yale. Granted, it was a road game. But Yale isn't offering scholarships to the nation's top recruits either. And if they beat a tenth-ranked Ohio State team by nearly 30 points, it's highly unlikely that a team that lost to Yale will suddenly find a way to prevent UConn from breaking the streak that John Wooden's team put together.
However, the difference in competition in wins #88 and presumably #89 only provides more reason to appreciate what they've accomplished.
"Shoot, just staying focused - I mean, you win that many times, I know you go out there and feel like you're just going to win," said Gant. "You know you're going to win. And it's hard to play when you do that - sometimes you could lose focus and you let it slip up and you lose a game. But I guess they keep their focus all the time and they got 88 wins. That's a lot of wins."
It's not as if Gant and Romar are strangers to success either - UW is a team that is coming off a trip to the Sweet Sixteen last season and Romar also got their in 2005 and 2006. Gant was also around for the 2009 team that won the Pac-10 tournament. But neither has reached anything near 88 wins, not to mention a chance at three consecutive National Championships that UConn is aiming for - winning anything 88 straight times is difficult in any sport against any competition is difficult just because you have to remain focused. You don't really have to have played the game to get that - if this occurred often, perhaps it wouldn't be a big deal, but the fact that it isn't done routinely is why people are paying attention.
So perhaps coach Geno Auriemma is right: "The reason why everyone is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record." And it's just false to say that he's making that up - there are definitely people who have expressed that sentiment publicly. Let's not sit in a myopic world of make believe just because Auriemma makes some of us feel uncomfortable.
But that's not really the point.
There's no reasonable way to look at this particular win streak and suggest that it's not comparable to what UCLA accomplished - that can be true without getting into whether they're better as a team than UCLA. Put simply, as a basketball unit, if they win 89 games, they'll have performed more consistently and dominantly than any basketball team in the NCAA as it currently exists (Wayland Baptist University women's basketball won 131 consecutive games in the 1950's, before Title IX). Nobody in their right mind is proposing that Auriemma is officially a better coach than Wooden or that Maya Moore is now better than UCLA greats Lew Alcindor or Bill Walton. And it doesn't really matter who their competition was. It's 88 wins.
"My opinion is it reinforces what I believe, how phenomenal it is, because it is a different time and there's a lot more parity even with women than it was back then to when you win 88 straight games you've done something really, really special," said Romar, who was a teenager that hadn't quite graduated from Pius X High School when UCLA's streak occurred.
This is about a level of consistency that is normally unmatched in not only athletic endeavors, but human endeavors - to not only do something 88 times, but do it in such dominant fashion is a testament to a level of focus and standard for excellence that many of us will never achieve, much less against other elite participants in front of thousands of people and journalists scrutinizing every move along the way. That some people seem to feel threatened by that and want to put their personal failings on display for public consumption is their own business but it comes off as insecure and childish, without even having to call it sexist.
If you don't care about excellence, that's your own business. But it's silly to jump in on how UConn's streak is inferior to to UCLA 's streak if a) they've never bothered to pay attention to women's basketball before and b) they can't wrap their heads around the fact that this level of consistency in athletic endeavors was considered near unimaginable even after UCLA did it.
Auriemma is about winning championships and he has put together the best run of winning those in NCAA basketball. And right now, the 10 games that matter most are the 10 that count for this year as he looks for a third consecutive championship. The streak is not the goal, but an outcome of a consistent pursuit of that goal, each season, regardless of who he loses to injury or graduation. Whether we look at the players winning the games or Auriemma pushing his players' buttons in the right way to keep them focused, it's extremely impressive and worthy of our utmost respect.
Both streaks are clearly great in their own right and will remain so whether UConn gets #89 or sits at 88. And as Romar alluded to, the fact that they're women doesn't detract from that.