The University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team advanced to the Elite Eight with its 75th consecutive win yesterday. This year they also won their 16th Big East Championship title, in which they held their opponent, West Virginia, to the lowest point total in the history of the Big East Tournament. In addition, no team has come within less than 10 points of the Huskies since their last loss in the 2008 NCAA Women’s Final Four. Amazing, right? Not so much, according to some sports columnists.
UConn’s performance is seen by some not as a sign of the great athletic accomplishments of a women’s team, but as a symptom of a problem with women’s collegiate basketball. Instead of lauding UConn’s accomplishments, many are chastising the programs that aren’t giving the powerhouse much competition and questioning whether UConn’s dominance is good for women’s basketball as a sport.
I think the spotlight of this story line is misplaced. If a team is breaking records and consistently performing at a high caliber, shouldn’t we concentrate on their talents, instead of suggesting that it is somehow a negative thing? Unfortunately, these types of comments are not limited to women’s basketball. Similar comments were circulated during the Winter Olympics regarding the large score disparities in women’s hockey.
Historically, the UCLA Bruins’ (led by legendary coach, John Wooden) dominance of men’s basketball between 1964-1975 can be compared to that of the Huskies. During this period, UCLA showcased future NBA greats such as Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton. In addition, UCLA had an 88 game winning streak between 1971-1974, currently the longest win streak in NCAA basketball. If the UConn women have anything to say about it, Wooden, who is coming up on his 100th birthday, and his historical teams may have to settle for the second best NCAA basketball winning streak record.
In the case of UCLA, time has shown that their dominance did not hurt, but rather contributed to, improving men’s collegiate basketball. Before UCLA’s run, men’s basketball was not nationally televised, the NCAA tournament and March Madness as we now know it did not exist, and there was not an equal talent pool between teams. Now, it seems we watch annually as “Cinderella” teams make a run to the Final Four and ruin everyone’s bracket predictions.
I hope that in the 2040 NCAA women’s basketball tournament, when another women’s basketball team is on the verge of breaking UConn’s consecutive win streak record, sports analysts will be reflecting on the positive effects that the Huskies 2009-2010 team had on women’s collegiate basketball.