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UConn: If This Were Men...

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<em>Photo by Robert Beaupre. </em>
Photo by Robert Beaupre.

If this were men…  If I had a dollar for anytime I heard or read that in the last month, as the possibility for the UConn women  to surpass the UCLA men’s streak of 88 consecutive victories drew closer, I would be a very rich woman. But why can’t we celebrate Connecticut’s accomplishments for what they are?

It seems at the first sign of success, we feel the need to jump and down and say, ‘Look at us,’ ‘Pay attention to us,’ ‘We’re just as good as them.’

But the question remains, do you really want the scrutiny that comes with the intense media coverage that men’s basketball gets?

"There is way too much attention that is placed upon things and events that the average person, if you used common sense doesn’t really cares about," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "Do we really need an hour show to figure out where a guy is going to play? Do we need 5 hours on how a guy runs a slant pattern in the red zone? Do we need 5 guys discussing whether a guy is going to take a snap or not? Do we need 7 doctors what his ankle looks like? Really who cares? But that is the culture that we live in."

That is what men’s teams deal with everyday. In a world that sensationalizes the smallest things are you ready for the backlash? Do you remember when the ‘National Media’ swooped in to offer their opinions on the Nykesha Sales basket in 1998? Or the national debates in 2007 about the use of male practice players?

 I get it. Women’s sports are often relegated to time spots that are not ideal and is typically limited to regional and league networks. I can turn my television on almost 30 times per year and catch a Duke men’s game on television and I live in Big East country.  You want that. I understand that.

Pundits who think that it is a slap in the face to women's sports that the game is featured on a secondary network are missing the point.  No the game is not on CBS or NBC or ESPN. It’s on ESPNU.

Men don't complain that the National Championships for sports like tennis, lacrosse, and cross country are held on ESPNU. But a moment that is relegated to ESPNU, that is just as significant by women, is taken as a diss against womankind.

 I can’t reason with you as to why ESPN is choosing to air NASCAR reviews or poker instead of this game. I do know that World of Poker events are some of the highest rated sporting events, routinely in the top 10 and with a growth of over 15% in the last year. NASCAR is the highest attended sporting event, year after year. ESPN has a sound reason for putting them on. It’s a business decision.

Do you honestly believe that by putting the game on one of the main stream ESPN channels that people are going to turn away from NFL games that were not already invested somehow in this team and their historical performance? Remember that saying you can lead a horse… But I digress.

ESPN. Time. Sports Illustrated. USA Today. HBO. Sports Reporters. CBS Evening News. PTI.  Outside the Lines. Wall Street Journal. Not to mention the dozens of other national media outlets that have all taken on the streak and its historical context. The UConn women have had a 4-Part Reality Series on ESPN and the first College Game Day for a women’s game. So I ask you, what more do you want?

ESPN does its fair share for the women’s game. When UConn did set the women’s record in March, against Notre Dame, ESPN interrupted a men’s game to show the last few minutes of the game on ESPN, hoping for some monumental celebration. They have planned panel discussions and block coverage, should UConn tie the record against Ohio State to precede Tuesday’s game against Florida State. They have moved the actual potential record breaker to ESPN2. They have done their best to put this streak in to the consciousness of the American psyche.

The truth is people are paying attention. I have read more articles from people who I am sure have not even seen a women’s game from start to finish in the last month then I have in the last 15 years that I have taken a legitimate interest in women’s basketball.

The women’s game will make great strides to stop comparing itself to the men’s game.  Yes, it involves a ball, hoops, and 10 people on a court. Comparisons stop there though. The pace, the rules, the records, the history are a separate entity.

It seems as if an accomplishment is not significant unless it crosses the gender line. The worst culprits seem to be women’s fans themselves trying to find traction, justification, and validation from their counterparts who follow men sports.

UConn has won 87 games in a row, a record in its class. Even if they get to 88, 89, or 130 wins in a row, they will still have the only record that they have a right to, the 70 consecutive  

"I’ve said what John Wooden did and what UCLA did will never be duplicated," Auriemma said. "Just winning 88 straight games will not… When they write the history of basketball down the road, if we’re done at 87, they’re going to say, ‘The most wins ever by a major college basketball team in men’s basketball was John Wooden with UCLA, 88. The most wins ever by a women’s team was 87.’"

"If we get to 88, 89, I don’t know if the story should be, ‘UConn women’s basketball has the record for most wins in the history of college basketball.’ That is like saying someone other than Jack Nicklaus has the most major wins of anyone in golf. It’s not the same. We’re not competing against the same people. It stands on its own as something unbelievably incredible to have gone this long and this far. I don’t want to compare it to anything else and I certainly am not going to compare myself to Coach Wooden or my team to UCLA."

What they did 10 games ago against Stanford or 49 games ago against Louisville is what these ladies are looking for and has absolutely nothing to do with their game against Ohio State today. Their story right now is trying to find to come together as a team, work hard every day, get better every day  and reach their goals.

Connecticut is focused on a National Championship. Streaks are nice but they are a byproduct of the final results. Championships.  

The Game to Actually Be Played...

 UConn (#1) tips off against Ohio State(#10) in the 2nd half of a double header, in the Maggie Dixon Classic. The first double header features Texas A&M (#7) and Rutgers.

Ohio State coach Jim Foster and Geno Auriemma go back a long way. Foster was instrumental in getting Auriemma started in coaching. Their wives are good friends, their kids grew up together. Foster’s son took Geno’s daughter to the prom. They refuse to play each other in the regular season because the friendship is too close. 

All that will be put aside for a good cause, in honor of the late Army coach, Maggie Dixon who passed away suddenly in 2006 from an enlarged heart. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh’s men’s basketball coach and brother to Maggie, organized the event in November of 2006 and it has been played ever since.

Ohio State features two All-America candidates in junior guard Samantha Prahalis and senior center Jantel Lavender. Ohio State’s biggest presences square off against UConn’s youngest positions.

The Huskies will look to freshman Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson and Samarie Walker to controls OSU’s talented twosome. 

Hartley has played against Prahalis twice in high school. Coming out victorious both times and she looks to continue her winning ways.

"Hopefully [me winning] continues," Hartley said. "It wasn’t really a rivalry. When we are on the court and we play against each other it’s competitive. We are both really competitive people so when we play against each other we go hard. But we’re still friends off the court. This isn’t about us. This is about out teams."

In case Hartley has trouble, senior Lorin Dixon has been steadily improving her floor game. Dixon is also familiar with Prahalis’ game with them both being from New York.

"I have seen her play," Dixon said. I know her tendencies and know what she likes to do. She is emotional. But I feel like we can handle her."

Jantel Lavender is a 3-time Player of the Year in her conference. Even all everything Maya Moore can’t make that claim. Poised to stop her is the interior duo of Dolson and Walker.

Dolson’s biggest concern will be avoiding fouling. She has fouled out in 2 out of 9 games so far. She also has to do a solid job of rebounding. OSU is a decent rebounding team with Lavender averaging 10.7 rebounds per game and Sarah Schulze averaging 8.9 rebounds per game.

Walker is UConn’s leading rebounder at 7.7 rebounds per game. Maya Moore is close behind at 7.3 rebounds per game, but all 10 UConn players average at least 1 rebound per game.

Walker understands the task in front of her. "You have to have a confident mindset and know that [Lavender] can be beat as well as her team. It’s not about us, it’s about the teams."

Coach Auriemma expected some bumps this season but it has been surprising even to him how his young team has responded.

"We go through spurts," Auriemma said. We have gotten a lot better. We go through times when we look really, really good. Then at times we look like we are really struggling. That is what I was expecting. I am pleasantly surprised at how good we can look at times, especially with all the different parts we had to put in there."

There is a lot at stake when the ball is tipped. Make no mistake about it. UConn goes for history, Ohio State attempts to make their own. Put the pressure is on.

"Everyone is going to feel it because of what it's been made into and they are just kids," Auriemma said. "I'll be shocked if either team can play like it means nothing."

Nothing at all, right?