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Jack McCallum
December 13, 2010
Basketball is serious business for Maya Moore and her Connecticut teammates, who need just three victories to surpass UCLA's 88-game winning streak
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December 13, 2010

The Nutmeg Dynasty

Basketball is serious business for Maya Moore and her Connecticut teammates, who need just three victories to surpass UCLA's 88-game winning streak

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And a small army of victims lies behind. One hopes that the UConn players understand how blessed they are, but perspective probably won't come until later, perhaps when one of them is mired in a .500 WNBA season or another is struggling to make a go of it overseas. For now, losing is something that happens to the Other Guys. Hayes had put on her UConn uniform 86 times through last Sunday and never lost; the number for Faris was 47. At least Moore is able to conjure up a memory of losing. "Stanford, Final Four, 2008, right here in this city," she said last Thursday, hours before a game against South Florida at the Sun Dome in Tampa. (USF became victim No. 85 as UConn won 80--54.)

Because of either inclination or indoctrination, perhaps both, UConn players do not talk a lot about the streak. "We don't really read or keep up with most of what the media writes," said Moore, as if the streak would not exist were it not mentioned in the papers.

"Are you sick of us?" a reporter asked her.

"I'd prefer to say it's just about keeping our focus where it should be," answered Moore. She gets an A in Handling the Press Diplomatically 101, further preparation for a political career.

Asked if they knew any players in UCLA's streak of the early '70s, Moore and Faris looked as if they had been challenged to name five Hapsburg monarchs. Bill Walton was one, they were told. Two heads nodded in faint recognition. The vibe from Moore and her teammates is clear: What's going on is about us. It's got nothing to do with some guys from California who shot misshaped balls into a peach basket.

Ralph swears that the coaches do not bring up the streak even among themselves. But in Auriemma's quiet moments—yes, he has them—he can't escape the streak's significance. Auriemma was a hard-nosed point guard at Bishop Kenrick High in suburban Philadelphia when UCLA was putting its streak together, and he says he won "lots of money" off his friends betting on the Bruins in NCAA tournaments. "I've always been a fan of UCLA and John Wooden," says Auriemma. "When I got the job at Connecticut [in 1985], I wanted our uniforms to look like theirs, with that stripe down the side. I always thought the repetitiveness of what they did, the fact that they looked the same and played the same every year, was admirable. I wanted that for my teams."

Auriemma delights in telling of his one meeting with Wooden, at a clinic in Palm Springs, Calif., in the late '90s. "It was like sitting down with the Dalai Lama," he says. The meeting didn't make much of an impression on Wooden; a few years later the Wizard of Westwood, while praising the unselfish way the UConn women play, remarked, "I've never met their coach, but he seems like a wonderful young man."

Auriemma laughs heartily and says, "Anytime I hear that Geno Auriemma is a p---- or an a-hole, I say, 'How bad can I be? John Wooden called me a wonderful young man.'"

These days the a-hole side of Auriemma (his own description, Alysa, so go easy on the tweets) comes out mostly when he's talking about his own team. When a reporter singled out 6'5" freshman center Stefanie Dolson for praise after a solid offensive game (16 points on 6-for-8 shooting) against South Florida, Auriemma was quick to bring up her tepid board play. "Three rebounds in 21 minutes—wow," he deadpanned. On the morning of that game Auriemma was asked about the potential of Bria Hartley, a freshman point guard who has scored in double digits in all but one of her first eight games. "Well, Bria slept through shootaround this morning," Auriemma said. "Slept-walked anyway." That night Auriemma started Dixon at the point, though Hartley played superbly off the bench. (She made six of seven shots, grabbed four rebounds and had no turnovers.)

Even Miss Maya, as the elegant Moore is called by John Altavilla, The Hartford Courant's Huskies beat writer, does not emerge unscathed. Auriemma describes her as an "instinctual player" who sometimes makes the right play by accident. To demonstrate, he leaps to his feet and elaborately choreographs the steps of a confused player. "You'll see Maya go down the lane and you know she's thinking, Hmm, I'm supposed to screen someone ... no, not there ... maybe over here. No, that's not right either. Hmm, so maybe I'll just flash to the top of the key and...." Auriemma is clearly enjoying this. "Then somebody throws her the ball and she knocks down a jumper, and the announcer says, 'Man, look how that Maya Moore moves without the ball!'"

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