Coach Geno Auriemma always preached that championships are what his Connecticut Huskies chase, not streaks.
With UConn’s NCAA-record 90-game run over, Auriemma can get back to his primary goal — winning a third straight national title.
“It’s where we go from here that will define this team more than the 90 wins,” Auriemma said. “How we play going forward will be this team’s defining moment. The 90 wins just belonged to a few of these guys. What happens for the rest of the season will belong to them. And I am excited about that.”
Star Maya Moore, who has been the constant for UConn throughout the streak, looked ordinary for one of the rare times in her career. The school’s all-time scoring leader was held to just 14 points by Stanford’s suffocating defense in Thursday night’s 71-59 loss. She settled to shoot 3-pointers — taking 11 of them — even when Auriemma pleaded with her to take it to the basket.
With her team trailing by six late in the game, Moore finally got to the free throw line for the first time and came up short — missing her only attempt. The normally poised senior was visibly upset after the game, losing for only the third time in her stellar career.
No doubt she’ll use this as motivation, just as she did the last time her team was beaten — 998 days ago in the NCAA semifinals by Stanford.
After a cross-country flight home, the Huskies will have six days to prepare for their next opponent — Villanova. The Wildcats will attempt to end two more UConn streaks on Jan. 5. The Huskies haven’t lost at home in 69 straight games and not lost consecutive games in nearly 17 years.
Auriemma was disappointed by the loss, but hardly distraught, cracking jokes in the post game press conference.
“This losing stuff is getting old, I hate it,” he said. “I just wish we could catch a break every once in a while so these kids can have some success.”
He will have ample time to break down the Stanford game and point out to his players every error they made.
“When we show the mistakes to them again, it will mean a lot more this time because now they’ll know what the result can be,” Auriemma said. “I’ve used this example before: You tell a kid don’t touch a hot stove and they don’t listen until they burn themselves. Now, they won’t touch it. You can tell kids all you want about problems, but if they never get beat.
“But now they will feel different at practice. I’m happy they’ll get to experience that and they’ll get to show a different side.”
The numbers during the unprecedented run were staggering. The Huskies won by nearly 34 points a game while allowing two teams to come within single digits. They beat ranked opponents 31 times and trailed for just 134 minutes during the 90 wins.
“I think you get a better appreciation for it today, tomorrow, the next day or the next day after that,” Auriemma said. “You saw how easily it happened tonight. It’s unimaginable for it to go that long without it happening more than once.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier after the New Year, when the Big East season kicks into full gear. The conference has seven teams in the Top 25. January also brings a trip to No. 10 North Carolina and a home game on Jan. 31 against third-ranked Duke.
As UConn approached UCLA’s vaunted 88-game winning streak over the last few weeks, more and more people compared the two programs. The Huskies share a similar fate with the Bruins (whose streak ended to Notre Dame), losing to the last team to beat them.
UConn hopes for a better end to its season than UCLA. The Bruins lost to N.C. State in the Final Four.
“I think that’s an incredible, incredible accomplishment,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said of UConn’s run. “Since we last played them and beat them, we’ve lost (nine) games — and two of them were to them. I’m really proud of our team for really stepping up and not being intimidated by the streak. Tonight was our night.”
Stanford hasn’t won it all since 1992 despite making the last three Final Fours.
“It’s not a national championship but it’s a very big game for us and we’re very excited,” VanDerveer said.
Former players from both schools were in the stands: Jayne Appel, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and JJ Hones of Stanford sitting together on one baseline, and ex-UConn star Tina Charles. And also Alana Beard and Ruthie Bolton, a member of VanDerveer’s gold medal winning 1996 Olympic team in Atlanta.
“I’m just happy for our team,” said VanDerveer, who joined the elite 800-win club last week. “The streak is something that they did. We’re about Stanford and what we want to do.”
Stanford hasn’t lost at home since a 68-61 upset by Florida State in the second round of the NCAA tournament in March 2007.