On Monday night, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team set yet another record — toppling No. 6 South Carolina 66–55 for their 100th win in a row.
The Huskies haven’t lost since November 17, 2014, when they fell to Stanford in double overtime. They’ve won four straight national championship titles, 36 straight road games, and 28 straight games over ranked opponents. Only two of their past 100 victories have come by single digits, and their margin of victory in this streak is a staggering 38.4 points.
That’s not dominance; it’s destruction.
But because this is happening in a women’s sport, many people’s gut reaction is to discredit and diminish the Huskies’ accomplishments. People say that UConn wins simply because they have more talent (which isn’t true — this was supposed to be a rebuilding year, as they had no pre-season all-Americans on the roster); or because they don’t have a tough schedule (they’ve beaten three top-five teams and eight top 25 teams this season alone).
No matter what, some people will always see UConn’s dominance as bad for women’s basketball.
Of course, the truth is exactly the opposite. Last night’s UConn game was a phenomenal moment for all sports fans, and a shining example that greatness doesn’t discriminate by gender. In fact, we can all learn lessons about the power of humility, self belief, and unbiased teamwork that fueled this winning streak. And it provides undeniable proof of the importance of Title IX.
Putting in the hard work
Geno Auriemma has coached the Huskies since 1985. In 32 years, he’s led the team to 11 NCAA titles, 22 regular-season conference championships, and 21 conference tournament titles. Auriemma makes winning look automatic.
Of course, it is actually anything but. Anyone involved in sports will tell you how hard it is to win on a consistent basis, even if you do have a talent advantage. Players get injured, or they have off nights. Other teams play lights out against you, knowing you’re the one to beat. Upsets are expected.
Yet somehow, UConn has been able to hold off opponents with hard work and and a laser-like focus during games that is unmatched across the sporting landscape. The team never takes a possession off. South Carolina — which had a size and experience advantage over UConn, as well as expert coaching by Hall of Famer Dawn Staley — hung with the Huskies for most of the game, but UConn’s fast-break offense and skill in transitions put so much pressure on the Gamecocks that there was no room for error. That relentless pressure isn’t a birthright for UConn recruits; it’s something they have to work at day in, day out in practice.
“We don’t have a magic formula,” Auriemma told Sports Illustrated this week. “We don’t go into a lab and conjure up and mix up things and come up with Young Frankenstein. We don’t have that. Unless you are in our locker room every day, at our practice every day, and go through what these kids go through and what they put up with every day from us as a coaching staff, it is impossible to explain.”
WOW #100 @UConnWBB one of the greatest coaches/leaders we have ever had in sports. Keep em rollin Coach Geno 🙌
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) February 14, 2017
Even UConn alumni have a hard time explaining the success, except to note that they’re prepared for what happens in games because “it’s 1,000 times harder in practice,” as Maya Moore told ESPN on Monday night.
The benefits of equality
When Auriemma — who immigrated to the United States from Italy with his family when he was just a child — was asked about President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban last week, he didn’t hold back.
“It’s a bad road we’re traveling on,” he said, adding that sports have something to teach the rest of America about treating people equally.
“In the world of sports, what you look like, where you go to church, where you pray has got nothing to do with whether you’re accepted or not,” Auriemma said. “Can you be a great teammate? Can you help us win? Everything else doesn’t matter. And maybe not enough people have played enough sports to understand that concept.”
Auriemma demands the best from every single player on his team, no matter their race, background, or even talent level. He coaches the walk-ons and bench players exactly as hard as he coaches his superstars, and he makes sure that every single player on the team knows they will contribute to the outcome. This equal treatment creates an environment where every single player feels a sense of responsibility, meaning that at all times during a game, all players are ready to step up and seize the day.
This creates a system that is just as strong at the top of the talent hierarchy as it is at the bottom. And that winning formula allows players like Gabby Williams, who scored a career-high 26 points on Monday night, to seamlessly step up and exceed expectations when superstars such as Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson graduate and move on to be top WNBA draft picks.
“I think he does such a great job of making sure all of his players understand their part in what we’re doing,” Moore said on ESPN. “I just love how everybody has a role and they believe in the role they have.”
Made possible by Title IX
On Monday night, Auriemma and the Huskies played in a sold-out Gampel Pavilion in front of a home crowd filled with all of the staples of marquee men’s college basketball games — shirtless co-eds with paint on their stomachs, star-studded alumni, and enough deafening screams to rattle even the steeliest opponent’s nerves.
And the best part? It wasn’t in any way a shock that such a big and enthusiastic crowd showed up.
“It is no surprise to me that you all came out tonight,” Auriemma told the crowd after the game. “I knew you would.”
The UConn team undoubtedly wouldn’t have been able to play in front of a sold-out crowd on national TV without Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
Title IX, which was enacted in 1972, is most closely associated with sports because it requires schools to provide equal resources, scholarships, and facilities to men’s and women’s teams. Although the federal legislation still isn’t uniformly enforced, and women’s college sports still have a way to go before they achieve true equality, it has accomplished something important: Title IX dared to say that female athletes deserve respect, and that good things will come if female athletics are invested in the same way men’s athletics are.
Now, Title IX obviously won’t sprout hundreds of programs of UConn’s caliber, but it did made it possible for a team like this to flourish.
— Julie Foudy (@JulieFoudy) February 14, 2017
The UConn women’s program is so great because it has been given decades to build and learn and grow, and has been provided with the resources necessary for success. Greatness doesn’t spring up from a vacuum; it has to be developed over time, and provided with a platform for success.
After the game on Monday, ESPN’s Steve Levy asked Moore and Stewart how UConn winning’s streak can keep going. Stewart responded, “How high can you count?”
That optimism and belief shows, more than anything, why Title IX’s legacy has been so crucial to women’s sports — and why the legislation must be protected at all costs for future generations. Auriemma has proven that equality and perseverance are the most important tools for sustained success, but Title IX is the foundation that equation is built on.