Geno Auriemma’s team tied a fabled milestone this afternoon – an 88-game winning streak, a slam dunk on their way to breaking UCLA’s record.
Ohio State was supposed to be the test. After the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team squeaked by then number-two ranked Baylor, 65-64, earlier this year, only one game on the schedule looked like it could threaten the Huskies’ record winning streak, which had reached 87 games entering Sunday’s contest against Ohio State, in New York City. Ohio State was ranked 11th in the country, down from a sixth-place ranking earlier in the season.
But instead of a test, UConn turned this Ohio State game into yet another basketball clinic. The Huskies beat the Buckeyes, 81-50, and again proved that talent alone isn’t responsible for their dominance. UConn outworked and outsmarted Ohio State; they spread the floor on offense, connected on a few pretty backdoor lay-ups and when they needed a quick bucket, just gave the ball to smoothest player in the college game, senior Maya Moore, who scored 22 points on a variety of slick drives and feathery jump shots. Ohio State’s most dangerous weapon, center Jantel Lavender, was a non-factor. UConn freshman Stefanie Dolson, whom coach Auriemma has begged to toughen up, played her fiercest game as a Huskie, as she grabbed 15 rebounds.
(More on TIME.com: See more about the lead-in to Geno Auriemma’s historic winning streak.)
The victory gave UConn a piece of history. From 1971-74, the UCLA men, coached by the late John Wooden and led by great players like Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes, won 88 straight college basketball games, a mark most hoopheads thought no team would ever match. The fact that a women’s team has now won 88 straight will compel many fans to dismiss this streak, but that attitude completely misses the mark. No one is saying the women are better than the men: a player of Maya Moore’s talent comes around every decade or so, but she’s no match for Walton, who’s a nearly foot taller than Moore. But sustained excellence against a set of peers should be cheered, whether you’re talking about men vs. men, women vs. women, Little Leaguers vs. Little Leaguers.
“You can put any spin on it,” Auriemma said afterwards. “You say what we have done is better, the same, or less [than the UCLA men]. One thing that is non-negotiable, one thing that we have in common, is that we won’t settle for anything less than the absolute best we can give you. Very few people can do that. They did it, and we’re doing it. Everything else is meaningless.”
Auriemma knows he’s fighting to earn widespread respect. “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 everyone is up in arms about it,” Auriemma said. “All the women are happy as hell and can’t wait to come in and ask questions. All the men who love women’s basketball are excited, and all the miserable bastards who follow men’s basketball and don’t want us to break the record are all here because they are pissed. So that’s the way it is.”
“If we were breaking a women’s record, everybody would go: ‘Aren’t those girls nice. Just give them two paragraphs in USA Today or give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and let’s send them back where they belong in the kitchen.’”
UConn can now break the streak on Tuesday, against Florida State, in Hartford. The Seminoles lost to Yale – Yale! – on Saturday, so barring some unforeseen calamity, the Huskies will surpass UCLA. During the last minute of Sunday’s game against Ohio State, many of the 15,232 fans at Madison Square Garden – the second-largest crowd to ever attend a women’s college game at the fabled arena – started an appreciative chant: “Eighty-eight! Eighty-eight! Eighty-eight!”
After the final buzzer, the teams took a picture at half-court. Auriemma hugged his mom, who moved her family from a small Italian village to blue-collar Philadelphia when Geno was seven. “We just want people to remember how much we respect and love the game,” said Moore. If you’re a skeptic, just watch the UConn women play for 40 minutes. You’ll never forget it.