It was never unreasonable to suggest that Ohio State would be a challenge in UConn's quest for history with a 88th consecutive win.
I mean, OSU center Jantel Lavender dropped 33 on South Carolina Upstate in their previous game.
But in handing the Buckeyes a 80-51 loss, UConn has at once given the critics an opportunity to focus dismiss the record due to competitive balance and given those who just appreciate excellence an opportunity to celebrate among the most successful sports dynasties in the history of athletic competition.
Regardless of where you stand on the streak - and perhaps it's more of a continuum than a dichotomy - the victory itself is an impressive statement for this year's team in both their 88 game streak and their quest to win a 2010-11 national championship. If their win earlier this season against Baylor was reason to doubt the depth of this UConn team, today's game only 10 games into the season gave reason to believe that UConn is at the very least improving if not capable of finding individuals to take some of the responsibility for winning off the shoulders of Maya Moore.
Key player: Maya Moore finds more than one way to impress
Although perhaps complicated to do so amidst a debate about whether UConn's women's basketball streak should be compared to UCLA's men's basketball streak, a strong argument could be made that Moore is quite simply the most skilled player in college basketball, men's or women's.
So for the moment, let's put aside Moore's 60% true shooting percentage and nearly 20% defensive rebounding percentage on the day and talk about her passing. She is arguably a better passer than many of the nation's point guards and although her handle might not be at elite point guard level, she sees the game as well as anyone and is able to make plays from anywhere on the court. In today's game, Moore finished tied with Bria Hartley for a game-high five assists which is no small accomplishment considering that OSU's Samantha Prahalis was also attempting to find her way in this game. Moore had an assist ratio of 18.30% and turnover ratio of 14.64% which is, again, by no means elite but when you consider all the other things she does for the team and all the defensive attention she draws, her passing will remain noteworthy.
UConn statistical MVP: Tiffany Hayes' early three point shooting helped blow the game open
However, more noteworthy for this unit is that unlike the Baylor game, UConn didn't rely exclusively on Moore. As statistically poorly as OSU played there are obviously multiple potential explanations for that, but OSU is a top 10 team and that they got contributions - perhaps even unexpectedly strong contributions from a player or two - is impressive.
Tiffany Hayes' shooting was particularly valuable as her early three point shooting helped create some separation from OSU after a tight first 3 minutes. In scoring a team-high 26 points, Hayes was the team's second most efficient scorer with a true shooting percentage of 66.19% (behind Stefanie Dolson, whose usage rate was insignificant) as well as a team-high 35.29% free throw rate. Like Moore, her passing shouldn't be overlooked either - she had an assist ratio of 15.01% and a turnover ratio of 11.26%, not stellar but still efficient.
Key statistic: UConn shot well and shut down OSU
Probably among the most impressive thing about this game is not that UConn shot so well (50% from the field) but they held Ohio State under 30% shooting for the game (and only an effective field goal percentage - weighted for the additional value of threes - of 30.15%). And bear in mind this is an OSU team that shoots 47% coming into today's game.
Their defense completely neutralized OSU stars Prahalis and center Jantel Lavender and three other players were entirely ineffective statistically (negative statistically contributions to the team's overall production). It was a completely dominant performance of among the nation's best team with among the nation's best point guard-center combo. One way in which they controlled OSU that stands out is almost entirely denying them assists in the second half - OSU had 2 assists on 8 field goals for an anemic assisted field goal percentage of 25%. Ultimately, UConn forced OSU to score one-on-one and simultaneously neutralized OSU's best one-on-one players.
OSU statistical MVP: Tayler Hill carries the team in loss
With Lavender and Prahalis effectively taken out of the game, OSU relied on Tayler Hill for nearly 50% of their overall statistical production; that's the type of contribution that Maya Moore made to UConn in their victory against Baylor, but Hill isn't Moore - OSU is not a team that will win with Hill shouldering nearly half of the burden.
To her credit, Hill was OSU's only reasonably efficient player with a team-high true shooting percentage of 62.5% and a team-high free throw rate of 55.55% on her way to team-highs with 14 points (tied with Lavender) and 6 rebounds. But ultimately the fact that Hill was the only OSU bright spot.
So again, if you're in need of reasons to be impressed by what UConn has accomplished, their consistent defensive effort is just as impressive as whatever Moore, Tina Charles, or anyone else has done. Geno Auriemma has built an impressive unit and established a system that has somehow maintained this type of intensity for a length of time that is almost unheard of in basketball.
Even the best basketball teams have lapses at some point - it's the nature of the game, even for championship teams. A cold shooting night, a randomly bad matchup, injuries, or a ball bouncing the wrong way can interfere with even the best string of performances. So if nothing else, we can take a game like this as an opportunity to simply acknowledge that Auriemma has pulled this type of performance out of players over a consistent three year period in a way that most coaches dream they could get out of their players in a string of non-conference games against cupcakes, much less an entire tournament, and even less 88 consecutive times.