How UConn women’s basketball became synonymous with winning

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The UConn women hoist the East Regional championship trophy after a 86-65 victory over Texas in their Elite Eight game on Monday, March 28, 2016, at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. (John Woike/Hartford Courant/TNS via Getty Images)

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JUDY WOODRUFF: A remarkable accomplishment has taken place now in college sports. The women’s basketball team at the University of Connecticut has now won 100 straight games.

William Brangham has more.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: To put this streak in context, the UConn women haven’t lost a basketball game since 2014. No one has beaten them in over 800 days.

And inside that span, they also won two of their record four national championships. One analyst called the UConn women — quote — “the most dominant program in the history of college basketball, period.”

For more on these amazing women and their legendary coach, Geno Auriemma, I’m joined by USA Today’s Christine Brennan.

Welcome back to the NewsHour.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today: Great to be here, William. Thank you.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, explain this phenomenon that is these women. How do you explain their dominance?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Well, no one saw this coming, if you consider, UConn had won four national championships in a row. And …

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Amazing, in and of itself.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: That’s right.

And the top three players from that, the seniors who won all four years, all went in the WNBA draft first, second and third. So, of all players coming out of college, they were the best three. They all left.

So, everyone thought this was going to be a down year for UConn.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: A rebuilding year.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Exactly, and expected a loss or two early in the season. And all of a sudden, UConn is playing the best teams in the country, and they’re not losing, and they’re winning and winning and winning.

And here we are with this legendary 100th victory for a team that is synonymous with winning, but nothing like this. So, I think it’s really stunning, because this was supposed to be, as you said, the rebuilding year, and they have just reloaded.

And, again, it’s just a great testament to a program and a coach, Geno Auriemma, that is not only just one of the greatest in the history of women’s sports and certainly the best in women’s basketball, but I think in all sports, men’s or women’s.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, if you take the top three players out of your team — and those are the top three draft picks, as you say — how do they do this? Is this — this obviously is a testament to something of the coaching ethos at that school.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Exactly.

Well, Geno Auriemma will always get three or four of the best basketball players in the country every year, but you only have a team of 12. It’s not like he can pick 100 and have them, stockpile them somewhere in a gym in Storrs, Connecticut, and pull them out when he wants to.

So, this is the part, William, that is just so amazing to me. Today is the greatest day in women’s sports, until tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: By that, I mean Title IX working its magic, coaching, parents caring, the salaries for coaches, the training for girls.

Everyone knows the girl next door, their niece, their daughter. You see it every day in this country now, such a cultural phenomenon, girls playing sports, and then of course women’s sports as well in college and onward.

And to think that, at this most competitive time in the history of women’s sports and women’s basketball, that you would have one team dominating like this, it’s truly amazing to me, as a journalist who has covered sports all these years, that this is happening now.

What it means is, Geno Auriemma is such a great coach. He gets these great players. And then he puts them into a system where he demands that they be teammates. They cannot be rock stars, superstars. Yes, they often — in fact, some of them become.

He wants them to be cogs in a system that has worked now for several decades. They buy into it, and they have championship after championship to prove it.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lastly, I know this is an oft-debated question, but is this kind of a dynasty good for the sport? I have heard it argued both ways. I mean, these women blow their teammates away — their opponents, largely. It this good for women’s basketball?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: I think it’s both good and bad.

One the one hand, dynasties are fun. We just went through the New England Patriots. People are hoping the Cubs will become a dynasty. Obviously, you talk to a Yankee fan, they love that over the years. As much as people hate the Yankees, people love the Yankees.

So, I think we’re into dynasties and winning, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, et cetera. I think that’s certainly a headline always in sports. And so, from that aspect, I think it’s a good thing.

The bad part is, it’s like, OK, this is women’s basketball? Where is the rivalry? Where is the competition? And I think there is concern — and I know I have certainly mentioned it — that, OK, again, at this most competitive time in the history of women’s sports, how is it possible that one team dominates like this? What does it say about the competition? What does it say about the other coaches?

My sense is that UConn may have a couple more really great years, but the history tells us and our culture tells us they can’t keep this up. And the Marylands, and the Baylors, and the Notre Dames are going to come on like gangbusters in a few years.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Christine Brennan, thank you so much.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Thank you, William.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will take it as a great day for women athletes everywhere.

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