Not since the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement has the separate but equal debate garnered so much attention. The difference is we are discussing quality of win streaks instead of education.
Law school didn’t prepare our current U.S. Supreme Court Justices to render a decision on the subject, so we must turn elsewhere. And there are no shortage of opinions.
The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team is one victory shy of tying the 88-game win streak that the UCLA men’s team strung together under the late legendary John Wooden. When it ended in January 1974 at Notre Dame, it seemed as secure as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak.
The 10th-ranked Ohio State women can put this debate to rest with a victory over the Huskies today at Madison Square Garden.
University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma's post-game press conference was interrupted by a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama following the team's 89th straight victory Tuesday night against Florida State.
If the Buckeyes can’t get it done, UConn has its chance to break the streak at home Tuesday night against 14th-ranked Florida State; and the Seminoles appear ill-equipped to get it done in what will be a frenzied, surreal environment.
John Harder, a legendary coach in his own right for the Southeast High girls basketball team, is taking the separate but equal approach.
He broke Jacksonville Ribault’s 120-game win streak against Florida schools and had a 72-game win streak against Manatee County opponents that lasted 10 years.
Harder has dedicated his life to women’s basketball, but it won’t alter his opinion on the “streak debate.”
“If Connecticut gets it, one should be the women’s record and the other should be the record for men’s basketball,” he says.
His argument is not good enough for most women’s basketball advocates. They want an 89th straight victory to be labeled college basketball’s longest win streak.
Those on the other side say no.
The separate but equal proponents say there is virtually no parity in women’s college basketball today and that Wooden’s UCLA team had a much tougher road. Some might even point to the fact that the ball used in women’s basketball is smaller.
The other side argues that UConn beat 27 ranked teams during its streak compared to 18 for UCLA, and the Bruins had 16 single-digit wins while UConn has 19 20-point wins.
If the no-parity belief is valid, toss out the numbers. They are as worthless as counterfeit dollars.
Harder feels it was more difficult for Wooden to win 88 games than it has been for Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma to get his 87.
“I would rather just leave it (both streaks) in separate categories and then someone could say, ‘Oh, by the way’ so and so has won more,” Harder says. “This is a wonderful thing, and I wouldn’t take anything away from Connecticut. It’s an accomplishment and should be respected.
“There hasn’t been anyone able to recruit with him (Auriemma), particularly the last few years. In women’s basketball, you can pick the final four down to the wire almost every year. That’s why people are frustrated. It’s a gimme, and I wish there was more parity.”
The Notre Dame team that ended UCLA’s streak was no slouch. It included three NBA first-round picks, including Adrian Dantley, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career and was the sixth overall choice in the 1976 draft.
Two other starters were 1974 first-round selections, John Shumate (fourhth overall pick) and Gary Brokaw (18th overall pick). The 6-foot-9 Shumate made the All-NBA Rookie Team the following season and averaged 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds for his career.
No one player a bigger role in UCLA’s win streak than Bill Walton. His era began in the 1971-72 season, and in his first two years the Bruins went 60-0 and won two national titles.
UCLA won its first 13 the next season and had No. 14 tucked away, leading 70-59 with 3:30 remaining at Notre Dame when it collapsed.
Those Bruins turned the ball over four times and missed six shots while Notre Dame scored 12 unanswered points. Down 71-70 with 28 seconds left, UCLA then missed two jumpers and four tip-ins.
Harder believes streaks are good; they make players stay focused and give them a sense of urgency. But breaking a streak is a huge motivator with little pressure. Despite all its success, his Southeast girls program might have gotten its biggest notoriety by ending Ribault’s streak.
Ohio State has a chance to become a giant slayer today in Madison Square Garden, the mecca of college basketball. The venue seems eerily capable of unleashing those ghosts of legends past that some say were floating through the rafters at that Notre Dame field house 36 years ago.