STORRS, Conn. — Coronation was the expectation for the UConn women’s basketball program Monday night and, given its dominance over the previous 99 games, how could you expect anything else?
UConn dispatched an opponent just like they had in every game since Nov. 17, 2014, this time with a win over No. 6 South Carolina 66-55. But this one felt different because it was different, no matter how much the star of the show wanted to downplay it.
“It’s not even the number that’s so special but it was the environment,” said forward Gabby Williams. “It was the fans. It was the alumni being here. It was the amount of coverage we had and how many people were watching the game. That’s what was special to me, it wasn’t really the number at all.” Williams was special in her own right, holding down the paint with 14 rebounds and a career-high 26 points.
There were numerous Husky alumni in the crowd as well — Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, and Morgan Tuck, among others. Williams credited Stewart and Tuck, in particular, with her development.
A 101-year-old woman from Stamford was in attendance. Her name is Emily, and she had never been to a UConn women’s game; but she made it to this one. This woman, who was alive before women had the right to vote, felt the need to take part in this moment.
This is Emily, she's got more years on this earth than UConn has wins in a row. That might change soon though. pic.twitter.com/8xtsHauuFV— SB Nation CBB (@SBNationCBB) February 14, 2017
Throughout the streak, UConn has won everywhere from Tampa to Tulsa, but Gampel Pavilion is officially home. It rocked with a capacity crowd in what was a dogfight for the first half. Coach Geno Auriemma called the student section the best he’d seen in his three decades in Storrs.
The women have won 17 games during the streak at the XL Center in nearby Hartford. Later this week the Harlem Globetrotters will come to XL, one of the only teams in the history of the sport at any level with a longer winning streak than UConn’s. That’s how comically impressive this run is, it’s surpassed at the college or professional level only by an exhibition team that dazzles fans with parlor tricks in games tilted in their favor.
But UConn’s wins aren’t staged: They’re simply much better than everyone else.
This isn’t even the first time the Huskies have fried these Gamecocks, either. Almost two full years ago, a No. 1 South Carolina team came to Storrs boasting the nation’s best defense. UConn sent them back below the Mason-Dixon with a 15-point spanking. Last season in Columbia was a similarly competitive affair and the Huskies won by 12 points.
UConn suffered the indecency of merely beating a team by single digits just twice during this run. They’ve won by 65 points twice during this streak, they’ve won by more than 60 a staggering nine times. Along the way, Auriemma picked up win No. 900 in only 1,034 games in a 60-point win over Cincinnati. They’ve won with a scoring margin between 50-59 points 16 times, and have won 31 games by between 40 and 49.
In win No. 21, Auriemma benched the team’s two leading scorers, Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart, five minutes into the game and they still won by 46 on the road. They won 33 games by 20 or more points last season and they’ve done it 16 times in 25 tries this season.
At the beginning of the streak, Auriemma gave a halftime interview in which he said it was the worst the team had played in his time as its coach. They were up 23 at the time, and would win that game by 51 points.
Oh and ho-hum, they’ve won two national championships in a row during the streak, and four straight in total.
February 11, 2017
Their competition is nearly exclusively themselves at this point, and Auriemma knows it.
“I kept saying to everyone that follows our team all year long, ‘We’re one injury, a couple fouls away from just being average at best.’ But, it was meant to be,” he said.
There were questions about this UConn team coming into the season, chief among them being how quickly this team could reload with Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Tuck going 1-2-3 in the 2016 WNBA draft and the current roster returning just two starters.
UConn wasn’t preseason No. 1 in the AP Poll, breaking a three-year run with that distinction. In this season’s opener, the streak nearly stopped in its tracks. A 78-76 win over Florida State saw the Seminoles up one point before a Napheesa Collier block and ensuing free throw preserved victory in the closing seconds.
“There were a lot of wins in the stands tonight and a lot of championships and if this would have been done by last year’s team I think it would have been less heroic, because it would have been, ‘Well of course they’re supposed to, look who they have. They have the three best players in America,’” Auriemma said.
“For this team to do it given where we started and where people projected us to be,” continued Auriemma, “given who we had coming back and given who everyone else coming back ... for them to do it I think is very appropriate.”
But about that 100 number.
Dropped these from the rafters when it was all over. pic.twitter.com/OGzBP8FRlo— SB Nation CBB (@SBNationCBB) February 14, 2017
“I mean, what’s so different between 99 and a hundred kinda thing? I think it was just that what we have here is just so special and we got to really appreciate it tonight,” Williams said.
In truth there is little difference between wins 98, 99, 100, etc., but the numeral is indeed nice and round. You can wrap your head around it easily and it’s a nice multiple of 10. We use it to mark the passage of significant blocks of time, and it’s the first number in the sequence with triple digits. Children throw parties on the 100th day of school, and the most significant individual basketball achievement in the history of the game saw Wilt Chamberlain score 100 points.
Student tickets were going for as much as $50, a far cry from the $2 face value you could have gotten them for if you had purchased them in a season package. A student sitting right behind press row even remarked that, on any given night, Gampel Pavilion wouldn’t be packed to the gills. We parachute into the big moments, and let the game-by-game dominance just float into the ether. That can be monotonous to track. But a big, bold number like 100 forces everyone to pay attention.
When it was over, the team gathered at midcourt for a photo with their coach, Huskies old and new among them. UConn isn’t likely to lose again until at least the Final Four, and history will continue to perpetuate itself. For this particular team, a national championship at the end of the road will be something that they can call their own, and that’s the carrot on the end of their stick.
For now they’ll share in the spoils of 100, and on this night they are the queens wearing crowns for their coronation.