Sizing up perfection
The more things change, the more they stay the same. But Connecticut's recent champs are coming closer to their predecessors.
NEW YEAR, SAME ANSWER
We keep asking, and the answer remains the same. Of the six unbeaten teams in NCAA Division I women's basketball, UConn's 2001-02 champs are the best in history. A look back at what ESPN's experts had to say after the Huskies' previous perfect runs:
• Flashback to 2002
• Flashback to 2009
• Stats for all six unbeaten teams
After the Huskies capped the 2008-09 season with a perfect 39-0 record to become the fifth unbeaten team in NCAA Division I women's basketball, we drilled the experts but came up with the same answer we'd gotten seven years earlier: The Huskies' 2001-02 team that went 39-0 remains the best in women's hoops history.
On Tuesday, UConn put the finishing touches on another undefeated season, beating Stanford for a -- no surprise -- 39-0 record. The victory marked the program's seventh national championship and fourth perfect season (1995, 2002, 2009 and 2010). The Huskies' two consecutive undefeated seasons are just the second time that has happened in NCAA Division I basketball, joining the UCLA men. The Huskies finished the season on a 78-game winning streak, just 10 short of John Wooden's Bruins and their NCAA-record 88-game streak from 1971 to '74.
This season's Huskies also had the nation's two best players on their roster. Junior Maya Moore won her second Wade Trophy earlier this month, while senior Tina Charles was named the Naismith and Associated Press player of the year. They also were both named to the 10-member State Farm All-American team.
So with all those accolades and records and accomplishments, how does the 2009-10 Huskies' version of perfection rank against the five previous undefeated Division I teams -- Texas 1985-86, UConn 1994-95, Tennessee 1997-98, UConn 2001-02, UConn 2008-09 -- in women's college basketball history? The consensus sticks with the 2001-02 Huskies, but at least one of ESPN.com's contributors gives the nod to the new batch of dogs. And as it turns out, the 1997-98 Lady Vols and 1985-86 Longhorns aren't even in the discussion.
How does UConn 2009-10 rate against the other perfect women's teams?
|Which team was the best?|
|I think the two teams in discussion for best undefeated teams ever are the 2002 and 2009 UConn teams. Both squads had WNBA draft picks at every starting position and the best player in the country at the time (Diana Taurasi in 2002 and Maya Moore in 2009). The 2010 national championship team is in the discussion, as well. Maya Moore and Tina Charles are better this year, but the '09 team has the edge over the current one because the '09 Huskies had Renee Montgomery running the point. The 2002 squad was really special -- I don't know that any team will ever be as dangerous offensively as that squad was. Coach Geno Auriemma says that was his best team ever and who knows better than he?|
|There's just no logical reason to argue with the true experts. If Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey still believe the 2000-01 UConn team, before injuries, to be their best-ever collection of talent and the 2001-02 team, which was an undefeated NCAA champion, to be their best starting five
then I'm certainly not going to contradict them.
That said, I think when ranking teams, you have to rank them on how they finished a season, not on how good they might have been had they not suffered injuries. In which case, I would put the 2010 Huskies as third behind the 2002 and 2009 teams on the UConn totem pole. And in the overall ranking of the undefeated teams in the NCAA era, 1997-98 Tennessee would come in second behind 2001-02 UConn.
|All that really matters for Connecticut is that it has been the best team in women's college basketball for the last two seasons because it got as much out of its assembled talent as perhaps any team in history. But the extent of the domination, on the order of 78 consecutive wins by consistently wide margins, does leave the rest of us still searching for competition for the Huskies, even if only hypothetical. And in that conversation, I'd still take the court with the 2001-02 unbeaten Huskies.
Forget for a moment what they did to college opponents that season and consider what they went on to do. Four starters were among the first six picks in that spring's WNBA draft and the worst professional fate awaiting any of them was quality starter (Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones became stars, of course). The best pro of them all, Diana Taurasi, wasn't even a part of that draft class. And on top of all that, those Huskies had two future professionals with distinct skill sets coming off the bench in Jessica Moore and Ashley Battle.
For all of that, and the fact that they won 39 games by an average of 35.4 points per game, almost identical to this season's team, the 2001-02 Huskies have the edge. For similar reasons, a 2000-01 team that lost three games with a similar cast also gets a slight edge, if since we're talking hypotheticals, we assume a healthy Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph, both of whom finished that season on the sideline with injuries.
|Most assumptions had this edition of the Huskies a notch below the unbeaten team of a year ago because this one lost a true point guard and unabashed leader in Renee Montgomery. Last year's edition was thoroughly dominant, ransacked every opponent and hoisted the trophy after another convincing win in the championship game.
But the 2009-10 Huskies were, in fact, superior in performance compared with last season. They actually were improved. The defense was a little better. The ability to score in bunches was more evident. This was a more dominant tournament team.
And that is also why I'm giving the 2009-10 edition the nod as the best women's team ever over the 2001-02 group of UConn All-Americans. Generally, the 2001-02 team is considered the best of Geno Auriemma's four unbeaten clubs. But the argument is typically grounded in what the group of Sue Bird, Tamika Williams, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Diana Taurasi would prove to become, not merely on what it was that season. What the Huskies were that season was great and dominant, but not quite as dominant as the team we are seeing this season. The Maya Moore/Tina Charles-led Huskies have beaten tournament and ranked teams by great margins and the schedule had 17 tournament teams on it versus 13 for the 2001-02 club.
Rest assured, this is an exercise in splitting hairs, but because no one really knows what would happen if these teams were to somehow meet in some time vortex and actually play each other, and because this year's team beat more good teams more soundly, the vote is for the 2009-10 Huskies.
|The 2001-02 Connecticut team is the best team in women's college basketball history. But this season's team, like the one 2008-09, might have been more dominant, relative to the competition. Still, the most "dominant" is not the best ever. If we could travel back in a time machine, I still feel like the 2001-02 Huskies would win.|
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