Bruins no longer alone at top

By Don MacLean
FOX Sports West and PRIME TICKET

Updated – Dec. 21

At last the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team has surpassed John Wooden’s record of 88-straight wins set in 1971-74.

UConn defeated Florida State, 93-62 Tuesday night to stand alone.

The Seminoles were unable to join the Fighting Irish on the level of the greatest streak busters ever. It was Notre Dame that stopped the Bruins streak on Jan. 19, 1974, a 71-70 Fighting Irish win. Guard Dwight Clay hit from the right corner with 28 seconds remaining, capping a surge of 12 straight points on that evening and leading No. 2-ranked Notre Dame to the one-point victory over top-ranked UCLA ending the Bruins’ record winning streak at 88 games.

The loss was the first for UCLA since an 89-82 decision on the same Notre Dame floor Jan. 23, 1971.

The streak coming to an end was a surprise based on how dominant UCLA had been, but not shocking. That was a very good Notre Dame team led by one of college basketball’s best players in Austin Carr. Digger Phelps coached the Irish at the time and throughout his tenure in South Bend, they pulled off some big upsets. This one was obviously by far the biggest.

Ironically, it was a Pac-10 school that was the last to defeat the Huskies as Stanford handed UConn an 82-73 loss in the Final Four on April 6, 2008. Stanford would go on to lose the 2008 title game to Tennessee, UConn’s biggest rival in the sport. 

Most of the stats between the two teams are pretty similar but UCLA scored 7,520 points over that span, to just 7,182 by UConn.

The 1971-74 Bruins were loaded with talent led by a dominant Bill Walton, and talented players Henry Bibby, Keith Wilkes and Larry Farmer. While Wooden had stockpiled a bunch of very good players during that time, it was Walton who made the Bruins unstoppable. He was arguably the greatest college basketball player ever and just could not be dealt with by the opposition. At a time in college basketball when everyone was playing below the rim, Walton was playing above it. Walton dominated college basketball during that time and when you surround him with good players, you get a team capable of winning that many games in a row.

One argument you hear in regard to the merits of each streak is the strength of the competition, and there is no doubt, the Bruins found a way to win the close games, while UConn has dominated the opposition. Of the previous 88 victories for the Huskies, 52 have been by at least 30 points, and only two have been by fewer than 10. But UCLA won by a similar average of 23.5 points to 33.3 of UConn. Here is an interesting stat, during their 88-game streak, the UCLA men beat 10 ranked teams; while the UConn women had defeated 28 ranked teams in an identical 88-game span.

Take a look at the five closest games for each team during both streak: 

UCLA Streak, Five Closest Games by Scoring Margin
Date Opponent (Rank) Score Margin
2/12/1971 At Oregon 69-68 1
12/01/1973 vs. Maryland (4) 65-64 1
2/13/1971 At Oregon State 67-65 2
3/01/1971 At Washington 71-69 2
3/20/1971 Long Beach State 57-55 2
UConn Streak, Five Closest Games by Scoring Margin
Date Opponent (Rank) Score Margin
11/16/2010 Baylor (2) 65-64 1
4/6/2010 Stanford (2) 53-47 6
2/22/2009 Notre Dame (24) 67-65 10
3/02/2009 At Rutgers 69-59 10
11/16/2008 Georgia Tech 82-71 11

But the most important number of all is three, as the Bruins won three national titles during their streak, however bowing out to North Carolina State in the NCAA tournament the year the streak was broken.
Right now, UConn sits at two, and though the rest of women’s basketball continues to take aim at the Huskies, UConn surpassed the Bruins’ win streak and probably win a third title this season. 

And many will debate the merits of the two streaks and argue which one was better, but the bottom line is they are both pretty amazing streaks.

Enjoy the history, regardless of your feelings on the men’s game vs. the women’s game, because these two teams are now forever linked, and like the 1971-74 UCLA Bruins, someone will be writing about these Huskies some 40 years from now.