— Maya Moore dribbled off the final 20 seconds as the crowd stood and cheered. The announcement was made, just in case.
The UConn women's basketball team had finally outdone itself, beating Notre Dame 59-44 Monday to establish a record for consecutive victories.
Seventy-one ... and counting.
"Maybe this time, for whatever reason, more people are paying attention," coach Geno Auriemma said. "At UConn, we have a way of getting the whole country to talk about women's basketball. It's been like that for a long time."
Auriemma's first unbeaten team, in 1995, was credited with putting the women's game in the national consciousness. The Huskies' 70-game winning streak, which ended in 2003, involved one unbeaten season, and a number of different players. And, Auriemma guessed, if you asked most sports fans which team held the women's basketball record for consecutive wins, the answer would have been "huh?"
This team and its streak have more of the ingredients for coast-to-coast immortality, including continuity, the prospects of two unbeaten seasons and then the potential next year to approach the hallowed record everyone knows about: the 88-game winning streak of the UCLA men's team in the early 1970s.
"It's hard not to bring that enthusiasm that you see us play with every day," Moore said. "We know how special our team is."
So, apparently, does everyone else around here. The XL Center, which seats 16,294, was not full, with 9,334 in attendance. The applause at the end, as the achievement was announced, was polite, not deafening. The bars outside were not filled with screaming fans. If winning is not taken for granted here, it is taken in stride — fans, perhaps, taking their cue from the Huskies' own matter-of-factness.
Where this team and its fans are concerned, championships are still the biggest fish to be fried, and the Huskies play West Virginia tonight at 7 for yet another Big East tournament championship.
"It's big," Tina Charles said, "because it's our second win of the postseason."
Although Notre Dame played UConn tough and kept it close, the Huskies didn't trail after the game's first 1:45, and ultimately won not only their 71st in a row, but their 71st in a row by a margin of at least 10 points.
"When we're not up by 30 points, people are like, 'Oh, what are we going to do?'" senior Kalana Greene said.
Some time ago, Auriemma took a book of coaching wisdom written by John Wooden, coach of the record-setting UCLA team, off his office shelf and slipped it into his briefcase. He has carried it with him since, but this is his only remaining deference to superstition. He pulled into the XL Center garage and parked his car in spot No. 13.
"I spit in the face of superstition," Auriemma joked. "I was a lot more super- stitious before Maya and Tina got here."
With an entourage that includes the two top players in the country — last year, with Renee Montgomery, he had three — Auriemma can saunter into history. Only an injury can knock the Huskies off course, and when Caroline Doty was hit in the head by Ashley Barlow's elbow and stayed on the ground for several minutes, it was a reminder, Auriemma said, of how "fragile" things really are.
Doty and Tiffany Hayes, both sophomores, have not lost a game in their college lives.
"They don't think they're ever going to lose a game," Auriemma said. "Which would you rather play? A team that doesn't think it's ever going to lose, or a team that knows what losing feels like?"
It's a question not likely to be answered anytime soon.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun