The numbers seem to run together anymore, University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma admitted Tuesday night at Fifth Third Arena.
A 97th consecutive win? 98th? The Huskies secured the latter, a milestone victory unparalleled by any other women’s hoops team, by dismantling the University of Cincinnati 96-49.
It was history to the 4,026 fans who flocked to see the No. 1 Huskies (23-0, 11-0 American) beat the Bearcats (14-9, 5-5) and inch closer to 100 straight wins. If the script goes according to plan, UConn will clinch its momentous victory Monday against No. 6 South Carolina in Storrs, Conn.
Less concerned with record chases than game execution, Auriemma said he was intent on gauging UConn’s defensive approach and seeing how long players could stay engaged and not play to the score.
"What kind of shots are we getting and where are we getting those shots? How are we defensively? All the things that I think about in every game. So whenever I do that, the last thing on my mind is the number," Auriemma said. "And I’m sure with this weekend coming up that it will be a big topic of conversation for a lot of people. But right now we just needed a game like this where we did a lot of things really, really well."
UC coach Jamelle Elliott assumed a unique perspective for the outing. She saw it as a series of opportunities for her team to outperform the Huskies, from limiting their outside shots and sprinting back in transition to fighting like crazy for 40 minutes.
Winning the game? Well, that was a long shot.
UConn has overwhelmed most of its opponents this season, outscoring them by an average 44 points. Couple that with the fact that UC has never defeated the Huskies in 17 tries. It’s a tribute to UConn’s consistent glut of extraordinary length, immense talent and clockwork schemes.
"We knew that the stars were going to have to be aligned perfectly for us to even have a shot at this game," Elliott said. "That didn’t mean we that didn’t prepare the same way we prepare against everybody else, but I’ve always been honest and real and truthful with my players. Our goal ultimately was to get out of this game physically and mentally intact."
UConn's reputation is so intimidating that some teams lose before they even walk on the court. Elliott, a former UConn player and 12-year assistant to Auriemma, knows better than anyone just how formidable the Huskies’ program can be.
She said UConn has replenished its talent every season for the last 25 years.
"It started with the 1991 Final Four team. The brand of UConn women’s basketball started. And it hasn’t changed, it hasn’t wavered in anything they do from a cultural perspective, the way they do things, so that’s how they’re able to do it year-in and year-out in spite of graduating great, great individual talent," Elliott said.
Bearcats teams have lost to UConn by an average of 47.1 points since Elliott took over the program, in the same fashion the Huskies have doled out lopsided defeats to most of the teams on their schedule. UConn hasn’t lost a game since Nov. 17, 2014. That’s when Stanford won in overtime, 88-86, in Palo Alto.
During the last week, UC’s bye week, Elliott focused on making UC better and not sweating UConn. In fact, the Bearcats only started talking about the Huskies in the latter half of Monday’s practice.
Even Auriemma said it’s impossible to measure one’s team against the Huskies.
"If you took our game out of the picture and then you look at the rest of the league, they’re -- I think -- in the Top Five in the league," Auriemma said.
"You think back to when she took the job, and they were last. They have the right group of players right now. They have a coaching staff that’s really, really solid. This is the happiest I’ve seen Jamelle since she took the job. You can see that the things does, why they’ve won as many games as they’ve won. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re in some sort of postseason tournament."
There’s little margin for error for most foes when facing a UConn program with no discernable weaknesses. Someday, someone will find a way. For now, the Huskies are a sight to behold.
They jumped out to a 28-7 lead against the Bearcats and never relinquished control behind multiple high-level performances. Napheesa Collier went 10-for-10 for 24 points with 12 rebounds, six assists and five blocks. Katie Lou Samuelson poured in 20 points. Kia Nurse, 17 points. Gabby Williams, 14 points and 10 boards.
Despite a big night by UC’s Shanice Johnson, who scored 20 points, the Huskies cruised. They shot 51.4 percent, scored 22 points off turnovers and piled up 48 points in the paint. They led by as many as 51 points.
If the four-time defending national champions continue their rare brand of dominance, then the 99th and 100th wins are theirs for the taking.
"We don’t pay attention to the streak in the sense that we went to get a certain number. We just don’t want to lose," Collier said. "We’re more focused on improving our team as a whole, just getting stuff right on defense and our energy."