Winning So Much You Get Bored With Winning

There was a lot in the news on Monday, including the late-breaking story that President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor has resigned in the wake of a scandal likely to linger a few more days, but that was all the more reason to take refuge in the sports pages. The big story there was the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team winning its 100th consecutive victory, and although we rarely comment on the sporting scene that seemed worth noting.
We’ve followed some remarkable winning streaks over our many years of sports spectating, but none of them approached triple digits. Back in the 2013-14 season our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers men’s team reeled off 35 in a row before losing on a missed buzzer beater to a powerhouse Kentucky University Wildcats squad in the second round of the championship tournament, and we’ll always love them for that, but that’s a full 65 games short of 100, and of course the streak didn’t include a couple of national championships. Way back when we were first falling in love with basketball the University of California-Los Angeles was dominating men’s collegiate basketball like no one had before and no has since, but their best win streaks were 47 in a row with the great Lew Alcindor, now better as known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was inarguably the best college player ever, and 88 in a row with the pivot manned by the great Bill Walton, who was arguably the second best college player ever. UCLA won five national championships with those legendary centers and another five without them over a 12-year span, which is as many the blue-blooded programs of the University of Kansas and the University of Kentucky have combined to win over their many years of play, but the Connecticut women have won 11 since 1995 and are almost prohibitive favorites to make it an even dozen this year.
The longest winning streak by a professional basketball team was 33, set by the Los Angeles Lakers in the ’71-’72 season, which we well remember following, being big fans of the Jerry West and Gail Goodrich backcourt and awed by the comic book superhero play of Wilt Chamberlain at center. That squad won the championship and is still regarded as one of the best ever, but it didn’t sustain that championship level for long. In pro ball there are 82 games and none of them are easy wins, so the most impressive streaks were the Boston Celtics’ nine consecutive championships, with 11 in 12 years, and the Connecticut women are in that territory even though they’re forced by college rules to completely turn over the team personnel every four years.
No other American team sport has seen such a streak. The longest winning streak in college football is 47, set by the University of Oklahoma’s Sooners between 1953 and 1957, which coincided with our beloved pop’s matriculation at the school, and of course his children were taught to faithfully await it happening again, which we still do starting with every win, including their impressive bowl to finish the past season. The Sooner’s streak started after a loss to the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish, and ended with a loss to the same villains, and to this day our beloved pop and all his children still root against Notre Dame in any sport even if they’re playing against the Islamic State. Those darned New England Patriots have the longest win streak in professional football, having reeled off 21 in a row from October of 2013 to October of 2014, but that provided only one of their five championships to show for it. You have to go way back to 1916 to find major league baseball’s longest winning streak, which was The New York Giant’s 26.
Connecticut’s Hartford Courant has been following the Lady Huskies’ streak closely enough to compile an intriguing list of other streaks, which includes an amazing 555 straight by Pakistani squash legend Jahangir Kahn, whom we admit we’d never heard, and 252 wins in a row by Hartford’s Trinity College in women’s team squash. The University of North Carolina’s women won 103 soccer games without a loss, and the great Edwin Moses went 10 years and 122 400 meters high hurdles races without a loss.
Given how humans tend to have off nights, even the very best of them, one hundred straight games without being so off as to suffer a defeat against the toughest competition in the land is a laudable achievement.
There’s some grumbling among the fans that Connecticut’s dominance is diminishing the popularity of the women’s game, as if the great dynasties of the UCLA Bruins and Boston Celtics and New York Yankees and the recent sustained excellence of those darned New England Patriots wound up hurting the ratings and gate attendance, and some of the old school feminists who’ve long been involved in the game are sore that the very much male coach Geno Aurriema has been the one constant presence over the streak, but we’ll pay no attention. We turn to the sports to find excellence that can’t be found elsewhere, and refuge from arguments and resentments, and we’re glad that the Lady Huskies are providing both. Their 100th win was quite a joy to watch, too, if you like seeing the beautiful game played beautifully.

— Bud Norman

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