The 35-0 season, in 1994-95, Lobo's senior year, was the one that sent the luck over the top. The UConn men, who rose to the top of the rankings for a while and finished 28-5, were among the most talented in school history, but the women became the headliners. The team that had played before 50 people only seven years earlier filled Gampel's 10,027 seats for 12 of 18 home dates. A new, different UConn basketball crowd gathered, not so much students but alumni, families, local residents, women, people who had been shut out of the consistent sellouts of the men's games. It was a love affair, different voices from different sections of Connecticut's newspapers drawn to the game by the idea of women as athletes, "girls next door," on a national stage. "Why doesn't Rebecca play a couple of games for the men's team?" new voices asked.
"Why don't we schedule an exhibition, the UConn men against the UConn women?"
"The women are better than the men. They're the national champions."
It was giddy, stupid stuff. It drove the combative coach in the men's office to distraction.
"I made a joke," Calhoun says. "I was talking with Malcolm Moran, who was then with The New York Times. He'd said that the crowd at the women's games looked like the crowd at a circus. I think he wrote that, too. I said some things off that, and a guy from Dallas came into the conversation halfway through and wrote them down. Then he printed them."
The quote appeared in a Feb. 15, 1995, story by Steve Richardson of The Dallas Morning News, in a paragraph that read: "When Calhoun tried to get to practice one Sunday in January after a women's game, he got caught in exiting traffic. After looking at faces in the crowd, he quipped that Connecticut was going to have to set up a 'day-care center and senior citizens home for its women fans.' "
The words—although they aptly described the crowd—created a hoo-ha in Connecticut. Eleven days after Richardson's article came out, The Hartford Courant ran a story headlined 'DYNAMIC TENSION' DIVIDES UCONN'S BASKETBALL COACHES; CALHOUN DENIES HIS COMMENTS WERE SWIPES AT WOMEN'S PROGRAM. UConn's president at the time, Harry Hartley, had used the phrase dynamic tension to describe the relationship between his two coaches.
"It's a theory of management that says competition can be constructive and useful," Hartley explained in the Courant story. "You've got two No. 1 programs, two great coaches who want to be No. 1 in their game. It might help one to be the best."
Calhoun was dragged into a political-correctness battle he couldn't hope to win. On Jan. 28 the men had been clobbered by Kansas 88-59. That game was part of a rare men's-women's doubleheader at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. The UConn women won their game 97-87. The two teams had traveled on the same chartered plane. Calhoun, grumpy in defeat, said after the game, "I'm concerned about the way we played...but at last report, Lew Perkins [the UConn athletic director] is going to continue the sport of men's basketball at the school. Women's, obviously they will." This comment was reported in the Courant story.
Was Calhoun jealous of the women? Did he take them lightly, think they somehow weren't equal? Why didn't he ever go to the women's games? Why didn't Auriemma, in fact, go to many of the men's games? What was the deal? The separate courses of the coaches became an issue.