Five reasons UConn has been so good for so long

Auriemma: My life doesn't change with 91st straight win (3:22)

Looking to break UConn's own NCAA Division I record with 91 consecutive victories, head coach Geno Auriemma discusses what the streak means to him. (3:22)

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma has always said that through the course of a season, a team is doing one of two things: either getting better or getting worse. He doesn't really believe in just maintaining a status quo -- if you're only treading water, that's about the same as getting worse.

So even if you're at the top of the heap, you have to continue improving. Nobody has done that better -- keeping the ball perpetually rolling forward -- than UConn under Auriemma.

As the Huskies prepare to face SMU on Saturday (ESPN3 and streaming on the ESPN App, 3 p.m. ET) in Dallas to break their own record of 90 consecutive victories, there isn't any suspense about whether it will happen. The Mustangs are 10-6, and while they have an impressive victory over Texas A&M, they also lost to an East Carolina team that UConn beat by 45 points.

The Huskies have yet to lose to an American Athletic Conference foe since the league was formed in 2013-14. Don't look for it to finally happen this season.

How have the Huskies created such a reality -- where we actually have to delineate which ludicrously long UConn winning streak we're talking about? The roots go back more than 30 years.

The big picture -- starting in 1985 when Auriemma took over at UConn along with top assistant Chris Dailey -- can be described as a perfect melding of Hall of Fame-level coaching producing a consistently great product, a fan base that fell in love with it, and advantageous geography for media coverage.

We offer five more factors to explain why the Huskies are in the midst of this particular streak. Admittedly, they are part and parcel of the big-picture explanation of this enduring phenomenon.

1. Top-level recruiting has become a self-sustaining formula

You'll hear it said often: Auriemma and his assistants don't just go for talented recruits. They insist on the exact type of personality they want, too. They really won't take chances on players who don't meet the program's iron-clad requirements of discipline, teamwork, responsibility, good attitudes and positive body language.

Because the UConn culture of excellence has been in place so long, it serves as a magnet for the exact type of player that will sustain it.

The signature player of this current streak is not at UConn anymore, but her handprints remain all over it. Breanna Stewart is one of the most successful college athletes in history, regardless of sport.

Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck were the top three picks in the 2016 WNBA draft and helped the Huskies win 151 games -- including the first 75 of this streak -- and facilitated the handoff to the current Huskies standouts. That sophomores such as Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier are excelling as they are now for UConn (15-0) is not a surprise. Like the older players before them, they fit the mold.

2. Auriemma's competitiveness has remained just as intense

Despite winning as much as he has, Auriemma has not lost any of his desire to strive for perfection. And for the last six-plus years, that's included leading the Huskies and the U.S. women's national team as well.

USA Basketball got exactly what it wanted from having Auriemma direct the American squad: gold medals in the two Olympics and two world championships he's coached in. That's been a big extra responsibility, but it's also been good for him.

Before Huskies fans begin howling that Auriemma didn't need any connection with USA Basketball to do what he's done at UConn, we're not suggesting he did. It's just that even those at the top of their profession can benefit from being around others who are at the top of their profession, which is what happens when he's coaching the pros.

Leading the national team, which has included several of his former UConn players, has clearly been a labor of love for Auriemma, and it's energized him. The current streak might well have happened even if he'd not been involved with the national team. But it certainly hasn't been a distraction; it's instead been an asset.

And the rest of his long-tenured UConn staff -- Dailey, former UConn player Shea Ralph and Marisa Moseley -- are equally as motivated as Auriemma to maintain their competitive edge.

"He gives us a lot of autonomy and a lot of trust to be who we are and do our jobs," Moseley said. "The idea that you can strive to be great at everything you do -- when you're around that every day, it does go into every aspect of your life."

3. The Huskies have had a dearth of true challengers

Since UConn won the first of its 11 NCAA titles in 1995, just two programs have qualified, at times, to be called actual rivals for the Huskies: Tennessee and Notre Dame.

The Lady Vols haven't played UConn since 2007, so Tennessee isn't involved in either of the 90-game streaks. Coach Pat Summitt's tragic early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, changed things a great deal for Tennessee. It ended her head-coaching career in 2012, and she died last summer. It's impossible, of course, to say exactly how UConn might have been impacted if Summitt had remained healthy.

From 1995 to 2007, UConn and Tennessee met 22 times, with the Huskies winning 13. Summitt ended the regular-season series in 2007 because of acrimony between the programs, and they've never met since in the NCAA tournament.

Notre Dame had UConn's number for a stretch -- winning seven of eight meetings between 2011 and 2013. But the Irish have lost their last six in a row to UConn, including 72-61 in December.

Other than Notre Dame, just four programs have defeated UConn dating to the 2007-08 season: Stanford (three times), Baylor (twice), Rutgers (once), St. John's (once).

In short, the Huskies' air of invincibility has rarely been challenged, even by programs that otherwise have been very successful.

Does this mean there is no depth in women's basketball, as some suggest? No, that's not accurate. If you took UConn out of the equation this season (or last season, too), it would be tough to predict who would win the national championship.

Last year, three first-timers at the Final Four joined the Huskies: Syracuse, Washington and Oregon State. There was another first-timer in 2015, South Carolina. And the team that's come the closest during the current streak to beating UConn is Florida State, which did so in November, but also lost to unranked North Carolina State in December.

The fact that UConn has continued this level of success even with other programs improving makes the current streak even more noteworthy -- whether those outside of women's basketball acknowledge that.

4. Most of UConn's opponents are psyched out before the game starts

It's often suggested that everyone wants to knock off the champions, so UConn gets each opponent's best shot. But that really hasn't proved to be the case.

To the contrary, a lot of teams seem to play worse than usual against the Huskies, at least for a portion of the game. Certainly, a big part of the reason for that is the Huskies are so good, so precise and so energetic, they force other teams into mistakes and then capitalize on them.

But you also see teams making unforced errors against UConn. They do uncharacteristic things in part because of nerves -- being overwhelmed by the occasion, UConn's aura, and the sense that they have to do something almost super-human to win.

Crowds larger than usual can rattle teams, too, while not having any impact at all on the Huskies, who are used to, as Auriemma has often put it, being "the circus that's come to town."

The Huskies beat teams physically, but they beat them mentally and emotionally, too.

"I don't care who you're playing -- to not have an 'off' night? That's hard," said former UConn star Sue Bird said. "Everybody has off nights. But it speaks to the way in which the program is run. There's no room for it.

"These kids go through grueling preseason and grueling practices, and they get to a mental place where they don't have off nights."

5. The culture is maintained by the players, past and present

The Huskies play at a level that seems closer to the WNBA than to college ball. We've lauded the members of the coaching staff a lot, and they deserve it. Auriemma is as good as it gets.

But even he would say that the players should be credited for how they buy into the system and enforce it themselves.

Among the biggest complaints you'll hear from women's basketball coaches nationwide is that while players are more athletic than ever, fundamentals have slipped. Specifically, shooting and passing on offense, and positioning and discipline on defense.

There's also a familiar gripe that club basketball has eroded not just those fundamentals, but also a general sense of competitiveness: Kids play too many games of no consequence, except to show off their skills.

Yet what are the hallmarks of UConn women's hoops? Great passing. High-percentage shooting. Not fouling on defense. Playing hard no matter what the score or how much time is left.

Auriemma demands these things, but the players do, too, by holding each other accountable. That continues into their professional careers.

At an Olympic team training camp last year at UConn, Bird acknowledged that there were moments when she felt 18 again, trying to prove herself. Never mind that she was on her way to her fourth gold medal. That sense of obligation to a standard remained.

As it will for the current Huskies navigating their way to another milestone.

"You play every game the same way," Samuelson said. "Whether it's our first win, second win, 80th win -- whatever. We keep ourselves going without doubting things. We go into every game being confident."