Commentary

Numbers keep piling up for UConn

Originally Published: March 1, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- At some point, it just becomes like a numbers avalanche. Scoring records and rebounding records and victory streaks and double-digit wins … and the ability to hold their breath while under water for several minutes.

All right, we made up that last one. The UConn Huskies can't really do that. That's, um, what characters like "Percy Jackson and The Olympians" can do. And while it does sometimes seem as if Tina Charles and Maya Moore really might be descendants of Mount Olympus, they are not demigods.

They're just great players on a great team, one that stretched the UConn program's victory streak to 69 games in a row with -- you guessed it -- the 69th consecutive double-digit triumph. Now that's consistency.

The Huskies beat Notre Dame 76-51 on Monday, as the energy of a packed and green Joyce Center didn't put any more of a dent into the UConn steamroller than was the case when these teams met in mid-January at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.

Sure, this time it didn't look like the game was already over after three minutes the way it did then. But in the end, it really wasn't much different than that 70-46 win.

Charles had 18 points and eight rebounds, putting her alone at the top of the UConn equivalent of Mount Olympus. The senior is now the program's all-time leading scorer (2,184) and rebounder (1,272), passing records previously held by Nykesha Sales and Rebecca Lobo, respectively.

[+] EnlargeTina Charles
AP Photo/Joe RaymondTina Charles toppled career marks that had stood for at least a dozen seasons Monday, becoming UConn's all-time scoring and rebounding leader.

"It hasn't really hit me yet," Charles said of the peaks she has accomplished. "I think down the road it will. It's more important to my family, them being with me through my whole basketball career."

Including in her strangely frustrating first two seasons at UConn, when Charles was an outstanding player who coach Geno Auriemma still kept pushing.

"Just everything I had to go through -- how to learn how to play hard," Charles said. "Learning what coach wanted for me, and learning that's what I should want for myself."

After Monday's game, Auriemma got a little gleam in his eye talking about Charles.

"She would have never had a game like this her freshman or sophomore year," Auriemma said. "The physical-ness of it. Even now, it wears on her. She needs some help in there, and she didn't get a lot of that tonight. And I didn't rest her.

"You know … I'm starting to really appreciate her more now. Not because of the numbers. But seniors do get to a point with me when you really, really trust them, and you really like them and you feel good for them.

"So … between now and Sunday, she's going to live in that neighborhood. After Sunday, she might get evicted."

Enjoy it while you can, Tina. Come time for the Huskies' quarterfinal game in the Big East tournament Sunday, Auriemma might be back to picking out the flaws. Not that she will mind. A big part of how Charles continues to motivate herself is by focusing on what she isn't doing right. (Which, most of the time this season, has been a pretty microscopic focus.)

"I'm just trying not to get comfortable," Charles said. "Working on the little things like footwork and which ways to read the ball when it's coming off the rim. I always think there's things for me to improve on."

Will UConn be able to improve upon its streak of 70 victories, set during 2001-03? If the Huskies win out this season -- three victories in the Big East tournament and six in the NCAA tournament -- they'll be at 78. Still 10 shy of the UCLA men's record streak, which famously was broken here at Notre Dame in 1974.

Well, that game is famous if you're of a certain age to recall it. Asked about it, Charles admitted it wasn't something she was aware of.

"Um … I didn't really know about it," Charles said, chuckling. "I'm not going to make anything up. But I know UCLA went to 88. I know that much."

If UConn's women are to surpass that, they would have to do it next season without Charles. Moore, the junior who had 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists Monday, will be back for 2010-11, though.

All this talk of streaks gives Auriemma a headache. Here he is at 30-0, having finished Big East regular-season play at 16-0, and he needs an Excedrin? That's because he doesn't believe things just "maintain." They get better or worse. So even when it seems he should have nothing to worry about, he worries about getting worse.

He thinks about how, technically, the Huskies could have only two more games left. The odds of UConn losing in the Big East quarterfinals and then the NCAA's first round are too ridiculous to even be calculated, but still …

He expressed some of his fears before the game in a chat with opposing coach Muffet McGraw.

"I said, 'Muffet, you know we've gotta lose at some point,'" Auriemma said. "And she goes, 'Well, tonight would be a good time.'"

But it wasn't even close to time for that to happen.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.