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UConn women prepared to take their shot at history

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / December 21, 2010

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Maya Moore was born in 1989, 15 years after UCLA’s NCAA-record 88-game winning streak had come to an end. But Moore, a senior member of the University of Connecticut women’s team, and her teammates have a sense of their place in basketball history as they prepare for a chance to break the Bruins’ record against No. 22 Florida State at the XL Center in Hartford tonight.

“It’s two different times, but kind of similar times as far as where both teams are in respect to basketball history,’’ Moore said after UConn’s 81-50 rout of Ohio State Sunday at Madison Square Garden. “But both teams share just the level of competitiveness, an expectation level above everyone else. And the way they show that is by going out and winning every night.

“This program is full of a lot of special people who put so much passion into the game. We would just hope people remember how much we respect and love the game and hope they see that when we play.’’

Huskies coach Geno Auriem ma has attempted to keep his team focused. But Auriemma has provided perspective for players, who should not be expected to know the relative merits of this UConn team and a UCLA men’s team of the early 1970s.

“The only time I addressed it any differently than I have any other time was probably [last] week,’’ Auriemma said. “Just to let them know this is what’s happening, this is what’s going to happen, this is what it all means. You can’t hide from it. I like to remind my players all the time you don’t stumble and bumble into history. You have a chance to go into the history books, but you’re not going to do it by falling over, tripping.

“You’re going to have to do it by doing it the right way, if you want to get in there. You have an opportunity, it may not come again, so what do you want to do with it?’’

Auriemma brought Gail Goodrich, a former NBA All-Star guard who played for two NCAA championship teams at UCLA in the ’60s, to Sunday’s game.

“I saw him after the game and he had this look in his eye,’’ Auriemma said. “And the only words that came out of his mouth were, ‘It was my pleasure, you guys are a real team.’ Those people who played on those teams, they understand we’re a team and we do what teams do, we go out we play hard, we play together, and we accomplish what we set out to do.

“I think why the comparisons might be accurate is that 30 years ago no one had caught up to UCLA, for whatever reasons. And, even after that winning streak, people still didn’t catch up. It takes a group effort to gang up on somebody. It didn’t take one, two, or three schools to all of a sudden knock UCLA back down to where everybody else was. It took an entire college mind-set of we want to really be good in men’s basketball, not just football.

“It’s taken a little bit longer on the women’s side to do all that. Again, it’s women’s sports, so people aren’t going to give it the respect that it’s due. If people didn’t think they could make money on men’s basketball back then, they wouldn’t have done it, either.’’

The UConn women’s basketball program was born in 1974, winning two of 10 games in its first season, while UCLA was in the midst of it record streak.

“I don’t know that much about [UCLA] and how things were,’’ UConn guard Tiffany Hayes said. “But those teams didn’t want to lose every time they went on the court and gave it all. Like we always say, go out and play hard, play smart and have fun. And I’m sure that team did pretty much the same thing and didn’t take any team lightly.’’

Hayes scored 26 points against Ohio State as the Huskies nearly matched their average margin of victory (33.3 points) during their run.

“It was one of those situations where you practice a certain way and when the game comes you hope you’ll be able to execute the way you did in practice,’’ Moore said. “We were so happy. Everybody was involved. I don’t think you can ask for a better team win. That’s the best way to play, to have everyone on the team contribute. What’s the point in playing a team sport, if you’re not all involved and all in it together?’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.