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One of the most remarkable streaks in sports is alive and well. No. 1 UConn used a third-quarter blitz and some clutch fourth-quarter buckets to hold off No. 4 Maryland Thursday night, 87-81, and in doing so casually extended its winning streak to 87 games, three away from tying its own college basketball record.
In fact, the streak is thriving, as healthy as its ever been. The Huskies (12-0) have aced every test that’s been built up as a challenge. Geno Auriemma scheduled tough; his team has played tougher.
“I set the schedule up so that this wouldn’t happen,” Auriemma told ESPN’s Kara Lawson after the game. “And it’s happened. I’m flabbergasted.”
Maryland (12-1), which ran roughshod over its non-conference schedule and could do similarly to the Big Ten, gave the Huskies all they could handle. But UConn repelled every Terps charge, and showed its superiority during a 14-0 run to open the second half. Katie Lou Samuelson scored 23 points despite a severe illness that had her barfing in the locker room.
Barring a stunning upset in American Athletic Conference play, the Huskies will complete the greatest multi-year run in college hoops history, one that began in November 2014, continued with national championships in 2015 and 2016, and could very well lead to another one. Along the way, they’ve beaten powerhouses and minnows, offensive machines and defensive juggernauts, perimeter-oriented attacks and dominant centers. They’ve won in conference and outside it, in November and March, in conference tournaments and the Big Dance.
And they’ll continue to win. The Huskies’ toughest game on paper between now and February is at home against No. 23 South Florida on Jan. 10. A win there could tie the record. A victory at SMU four days later could surpass it. The biggest obstacle between now and the end of the season is a Feb. 13 non-conference matchup with No. 6 South Carolina. A win over Dawn Staley’s team would bring the streak to triple digits.
Back in early November, many thought the streak could be on its last legs. Auriemma’s 2015-16 team had sent three players to the WNBA draft. They were taken first, second and third overall. Without Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, the Huskies seemed vulnerable. That feeling was reinforced when UConn got a scare from Florida State in its season opener. But it beat the Seminoles by two, 78-76, then proceeded to win its next 10 games — five of them against ranked teams and two against No. 2 — by an average of 25.7 points.
The streak on its own doesn’t even tell the entire story of the program’s dominance either. It hasn’t just won 87 in a row; it has won 134 of its last 135 games, the only loss to Stanford in November 2014. And it not only holds the longest and second-longest streaks in women’s college basketball history. It holds the third-longest too, a 70-game run in the early 2000s.
The 90-game streak, which spanned parts of three seasons and which was snapped by Stanford on Dec. 30, 2010, bested UCLA men’s basketball’s 88-game run in the 1970s. UConn can equal that as the second-longest of all-time with a win at Central Florida on Wednesday.
After that, it will feel like only a matter of time before 90 falls as well.