Many folks seem are trying to compare apples, oranges, grapes and pears without appreciating the nice flavor of winning streaks by the University of Connecticut women and the UCLA men of the early 1970s.
Both are commendable but occurred in different eras under different circumstances.
Neither should overshadow or trump the other.
The UConn women, after routing Florida State on Tuesday, have won 89 straight games, only two that were decided by fewer than 10 points.
UCLA’s men, under John Wooden, won 88 straight in the early 1970s. That streak became the gold standard because it was unheard-of at the time.
But neither is even the greatest winning streak of all-time in women’s or men’s basketball.
From 1953-1958, the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens of Plainview, Texas won 131 straight women’s basketball games. That was in the days that women’s basketball was a three-on-three halfcourt game played well off almost everyone’s radar. For women in those days, basketball was played usually by small colleges in rural communities in the auspices of the Amateur Athletic Union. Often, they were like semipro teams.
For the NCAA’s purposes, women’s basketball did not exist during that era so Wayland’s record doesn’t count or is recognized. Plus, it was six-on-six basketball.
But winning 131 straight games is a heck of an achievement in any organization.
That’s the point.
It’s a dicey process when you start trying to compare achievements, particularly streaks, of different eras. Baseball has had that problem from years with records that encompass eras of dead ball, juiced ball, juiced players, train travel, air travel, no relief pitchers of note, relief specialists, wartime, exclusive day baseball, night baseball, designated hitters, no designated hitters, the game being play in essentially two regions to coast-to-coast and in two countries.
Is pro football different from when the Miami Dolphins won 17 straight games and the Super Bowl title in 1972 to when the New England Patriots won 18 straight games and lost the Super Bowl in 2008? You bet it is.
Now, to the UCLA men’s record:
In those days, the NCAA tournament consisted of 22 to 25 teams. There were no subregionals. A team went directly from the regional to the Final Four. The regionals were based entirely on geography. The West was almost always the weakest regional. In many years in those days, UCLA almost had a walkover to get to the Final Four.
This was before the days of March Madness or when college basketball had the lavish and continuing media exposure it does today.
You can make the argument that there were fewer really good teams (particularly out West) in that era of men’s basketball than in the current era of women’s basketball. Most of the really good basketball was in the East or Midwest. The Southwest Conference was exceptionally weak. The Southeastern Conference wasn’t much better except for Kentucky — and occasionally Tennessee and Mississippi State.
That does not diminish UCLA’s achievement. That record grew as basketball grew exponentially in four decades.
Now to the UConn women:
I’m not sure the women’s game is that much different in some ways than the men’s nowadays — with the exception that the men’s game is played more one-on-one and above-the-rim. And that stereotype is being wiped out by Baylor’s Britney Griner, who is having close to the same impact on the women’s game as Lew Alcindor did on the men’s game with some of those great UCLA teams of the past.
Check the scores in men’s and women’s basketball. Most of the time, the women’s game is more up-tempo and has a more entertaining pace than the men’s game. And it’s becoming more physical.
For example, the most physical basketball game I’ve seen in awhile was the Vilonia-Conway High girls final of the First Security/John Stanton Wampus Cat Invitationl.
It’s an incredible achievement that the UConn women, arguably with bigger target on their backs than the UCLA men in those days simply because there is more media exposure today, won all but two games by more than 10 points. And the only game the Lady Huskies were in real danger of losing was earlier this season against Baylor, where UConn overcame a double-digit lead in the final minutes to win 65-64 in a matchup of likely No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tourney.
For those who have a stereotype of NCAA women’s basketball nowadays, I invite to watch UConn’s Maya Moore, who is one of the best, most dynamic and most entertaining players, male or female, I have ever seen. Moore scored a career-high 41 points in Tuesday’s historic victory over Florida State.
Comparing athletic records of this type is like comparing the Mississippi and Amazon rivers. Both are historically significant, long but flow through different situations and cultures. Both have been an integral part of history in their own right.
It’s best to just sit back and note the beauty and magic of each.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)