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The XL Center in Hartford, Conn., might as well have been a Hollywood movie set Tuesday night.
The stage was set for an all-time blockbuster. The stars of the movie had been cast: University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, the leading man. All-American superstar senior forward Maya Moore, the leading lady. A new starlet ready to prove herself in freshman guard Bria Hartley.
Sitting in the stands to watch the scene unfold: Greg Wooden, grandson of the late great UCLA coach John Wooden, former UConn great Tina Charles, current UConn men's basketball star Kemba Walker, UConn football coach Randy Edsall. A supporting cast of thousands of UConn basketball fans in the stands, cheering, chanting, absolutely electrified for every minute of this historic game. This was a happening. A must-see event.
It could not have played out any better if it had been scripted. Behind a career-high 41 points for Moore, UConn crushed Florida State 93-62 for the team's NCAA record-setting 89th consecutive win. As if that wasn't enough, there was the congratulatory phone call from President Obama to Auriemma during the postgame press conference. And I got to sit in press row, behind the basket, watching it unfold.
|The scoreboard at the XL Center said it all: 89 consecutive wins.|
I had trouble writing this post because it was almost too much to describe. From the first second I walked into the XL Center, the place was electric. I've been lucky to attend three NCAA men's Final Fours as a fan. Tonight's game felt like a Final Four. There was a palpable buzz in the air. The crowd knew it was going to witness history. That's not being cocky or overconfident; it's just a fact. UConn women's basketball fans expect to witness a victory every game. Can you blame them? UConn is better than every other team playing women's basketball right now. Maya Moore is better than any other basketball player right now. Tonight they made a statement as they set the historic mark of 89 straight: "We are damn good and you should appreciate us for what we've done."
Everybody in the building celebrated this remarkable accomplishment. Every fan held up a sign that read, "89." Balloons spelling out "89" had been smuggled in for the occasion. Students had painted themselves blue with "89" on their bodies. A group of fans unveiled a banner that read "The Sorcerer of Storrs." Nike had the "Just Do It 89 Straight Wins In A Row" T-shirts ready to go and handed them out to players, cheerleaders and Jonathan, the UConn mascot, as soon as the final seconds ticked off as the crowd chanted "89! 89! 89!"
Tuesday night wasn't about comparing streaks or discussing the relative merits of men's and women's basketball. It was about witnessing a great college basketball team do what it does best: dismantle an opponent. And this team has done it 89 straight times. 89! Auriemma took the microphone on the court after the game. He thanked the fans for coming out and said he hadn't felt such electricity in the building in a long time. Then he said simply, "What I'm going to remember about tonight ... forget about whatever else you may have heard, tonight was about Maya Moore and Tiffany Hayes and the fact that they've been through all 89 of these and I'm really happy for them."
Even Florida State coach Sue Semrau, who, after seeing her team get crushed, gave an extremely classy postgame press conference and lauded UConn and its accomplishment. When asked if she thought such a streak was possible, Semrau said, "I didn't think it would be possible, no. I think it's still impossible to me. [Laughs]. You know that it's happened. I've watched Geno grow his program and the job he's done. I'm not surprised that it's Connecticut."
This is an accomplishment worth celebrating and admiring. If this were a movie, you'd stand up and cheer, wouldn't you?