There's only one college basketball program today that reminds Greg Lee of the dominant UCLA teams he played on under legendary coach John Wooden.
Not Kansas despite its No. 1 ranking and wealth of talent. Not Duke despite its sustained run of excellence. That team is actually the UConn women, who beat Notre Dame 59-44 on Monday night to notch their 71st consecutive victory and eclipse their own Division I women's record for consecutive wins set from 2001-03.
"They're doing something that's not unlike what UCLA did," said Lee, a three-year starter during the Bruins' record 88-game win streak from 1971-74. "For a little more than a decade, we had the best basketball players, the hardest practices and a phenomenal coach and we were tough to beat. Connecticut seems to be in that same really good zone. Everybody who's really good wants to go there, so they get two or three great players every year."
In this one-and-done era of men's college basketball when it's nearly impossible to sustain dominance for more than a year or two, the UConn women are probably as close as we'll ever come to another Wooden-era dynasty. The Huskies (32-0) have beaten teams by an average of more than 30 points during the streak and have yet to win by anything less than double figures, causing critics to bemoan their run of excellence as boring and bad for the sport.
Although former UCLA star Jamaal Wilkes admits he hasn't watched many UConn games this season, he has a unique understanding for the challenges the Huskies have faced during their streak. Wooden limited the pressure by preaching a one-at-a-time mantra and forbidding all talk of win streaks or championships, but Wilkes still remembers it being difficult to maintain the day-to-day focus necessary not to slip up even once.
"I have the profoundest respect for the Connecticut program, the coach, the staff and those young women," Wilkes said. "It takes a remarkable belief and commitment to do something like that. Once you kind of get it going and that expecation is there, it just takes on a life of its own."
It wasn't just because of Notre Dame's No. 6 ranking or 27-4 record that Monday night's Big East semifinal seemed potentially dangerous for UConn. The Irish have a history of similar momentous upsets in other sports, snapping Oklahoma's record 47-game win streak in football in 1957 and handing Wooden's UCLA team the loss that ended its record streak in 1974.
The Irish put up a credible fight on Monday night, trailing only by three at halftime before UConn broke it open.
Unlike the 1972 Miami Dolphins who infamously gather to celebrate every time the last undefeated NFL team loses, Lee said he and his former UCLA teammates are rooting for UConn to break the Division I record next year.
"I guarantee you we won't be smoking cigars or drinking champagne if Connecticut loses before 88," Lee said. "That sounds sick to me, hoping a really successful team messes up before it breaks the record. It's a phenomenal accomplishment that Connecticut has gotten this far, and I'd love to see them do it."