The Front Row with Tim Dahlberg December 20, 2010
Different eras. Different streaks. Different ball.
Perhaps most important of all, different sex.
About the only thing the same is the numbers. They are so staggering that any conversation about the UCLA basketball team of the early '70s and the Connecticut women's team of today must begin and end with them.
Save the middle part to debate the merits of women's basketball all you want. Just don't lose sight of the numbers, because we may never see anything like this again.
For the better part of four decades now, the magical number in college basketball has been 88. No one has come close to matching the winning streak of John Wooden's Bruins, and no one who saw UCLA dominate during that stretch could imagine seeing another team equal its record for consecutive wins.
But on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, UConn did just that, beating No. 11 Ohio State with a lot more than just their No. 1 ranking on the line.
The odds are good that Tuesday night at home against Florida State, the remarkable team with the coach who never understood why women should be treated differently from men on the court will hold the record on its own.
A big win for UConn, sure. But maybe an even bigger win for those who have never understood why women's basketball has been held to another standard.
"Based on what everybody's saying, it's not just another game," said Geno Auriemma, UConn's always blunt coach. "So now that we're here, let's win."
Shouldn't be a problem. The Huskies, it seems, always win.
They won every game two years ago, won every game last year, and have won every game this season. The last time they lost was in the national semifinals to Stanford in 2008, and they boast the best player in the country in Maya Moore.
Their record holds up just fine against the great UCLA teams led by Bill Walton. Better, actually, if you factor in that UConn has beaten 16 top-10 teams during its streak, four more than UCLA did during its run.
But these are women on the court, not men. And the reality is that UConn could win 188 straight games and still not get the credit UCLA did for its run.
Is it fair? No, but that's the lot in life for women's sports, which are still viewed as second class by the vast majority of fans despite the advances since Title IX came into being at the same time UCLA was beginning its record streak.
Still, if there was ever a women's team to embrace, UConn might be it.
Under their demanding coach they play tough, fundamental basketball and methodically pick apart other teams. Auriemma makes sure they pay attention to the smallest detail, from how to block out under the basket to how to line up - shortest to tallest with hands behind their backs - for the national anthem.
The few times they've been tested, they responded, and no better example was when they rallied last month from a late eight-point deficit to hold off No. 2 Baylor in a game as exciting as any played by men so far this season.
They've done it this year with just two returning starters on a team that includes five freshmen. While the players change, the system keeps working as evidenced by the seven national titles and four perfect seasons UConn has compiled in Auriemma's 26-year reign as coach.
Walton himself is among their admirers.
"They play with great sense of team, great purpose, phenomenal execution of fundamentals, relentless attack," Walton told The Associated Press recently. "It is what every team should aspire to, regardless of the sport."
That this sport is women's basketball means UConn will never get its proper due for one of the most remarkable runs in all of sports. It also means Auriemma's name won't automatically come up next to Wooden's when the talk turns to the greatest college coaches.
Auriemma and his Huskies seem to have accepted that. They understand that the only thing they can control is on the court.
They're not the UCLA of the '70s. They're the UConn of another gender and another era.
That doesn't mean we can't enjoy their dynasty all the same.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org