UConn once again defies expectations in winning 100 consecutive games

UConn's road to 100 in a row (1:22)

UConn women's basketball extends their record win streak to 100 games with another big win on Monday. (1:22)

STORRS, Conn. -- So little about this makes sense. What is one more unfathomable number?

It doesn't make sense that a basketball program that hadn't won 100 games in its history when Geno Auriemma arrived prior to the 1985-86 season has now won 100 games in a row.

It doesn't make sense that the year after Connecticut won a fourth consecutive national title on the strength of a senior class comprised of arguably the three best players in the nation, those who remained behind have beaten six of the top eight teams in the most recent AP Top 25.

It doesn't make sense that on a night when Katie Lou Samuelson couldn't hit a shot, Kia Nurse couldn't run and Napheesa Collier couldn't stay out of foul trouble, No. 1 UConn beat No. 6 South Carolina 66-55 in large part by outplaying the best post tandem in the country.

It doesn't make sense that amidst Connecticut countryside recently buried under so much snow that even Gabby Williams couldn't leap over the drifts, students said they waited outside for six hours to secure seats in the front row at Gampel Pavilion.

What Williams does on a basketball court definitely doesn't make sense. On any level.

So, yes, it is difficult to know what to do with this latest number. It is ridiculous. The two longest winning streaks in women's basketball not involving UConn add up to only 100.

It's why someone recently asked Auriemma what makes his program different. It's not a new question but a pertinent one that 300-plus other Division I programs still can't answer.

"Unless you're in our locker room every day and unless you're at our practice every day," Auriemma said, "and unless you go through what these kids go through every day and put up with what they put up with every day from us as a coaching staff, it's impossible to explain."

But not impossible to demonstrate.

No group of players has been better at that than this group.

"You figure it out right away," said Nurse, who wouldn't comment on any possible injury but whom Auriemma noted, confirming what was readily apparent, could barely run. "And I think it's the way the vets teach you how we do every drill, how we lift, how we work out. And the importance of each little detail in what we do. That's something that you learn right away."

That wasn't supposed to be enough for this team. Institutional memory has its limits. Even here. UConn entered the season as a four-time defending champion working on one of the longest winning streaks in history. It did not enter the season ranked No. 1, which tells you something about the benefit of doubt not extended this particular group of returning players.

Still, the Huskies survived the frantic final seconds of the season opener against Florida State and grew through wins against Baylor, Maryland, Notre Dame and Texas that were, by and large, more convincing than fraught. But Auriemma, rarely prone to false humility or perfunctory platitudes, contended that Monday's game against South Carolina worried him more than any of those had.

UConn's liabilities this season are its short bench and its lack of size, Collier and Williams often surrendering inches in the post. South Carolina's strength was its size, A'ja Wilson and Alaina Coates the twin hearts of a lineup that had produced 223 more rebounds than their opponents, opponents who had committed 95 more fouls than the Gamecocks.

Williams and Collier finished with 44 points and 23 rebounds, Wilson and Coates 27 points and 20 rebounds.

Auriemma warned people his team was an injury away from being average. Nurse looked far from her normal self in limited minutes but freshman Crystal Dangerfield came off the bench to play 30 minutes and total seven assists that mostly involved disappearing amidst bigger South Carolina bodies.

Others worried that too many points came from too few sources. Samuelson had perhaps her worst shooting performance (2-for-12 from the field) of the season. It didn't matter.

Both teams missed shots they might make other nights, but it was South Carolina that made the mistakes -- committed the turnovers and gave up the rebounds that decided the outcome. Connecticut didn't beat itself. And no one else has proved capable of it.

"Our defense was not bad," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "I thought we did a really good job with that. It's just we let our guard down, and when you let your guard down, a team like UConn is going to make you pay every time."

She paused for a beat, then almost whispered the final two words again. Every time.

One hundred times in a row, for those counting.

"Given where we started and where people projected us to be," Auriemma said of reaching triple digits, "given who we have coming back and given who everybody else had coming back, for them to do it is, I think, very appropriate. And they probably feel better about it than maybe last year's team would have, a big win like this against a really good team in an amazing environment. We had to do it under somewhat difficult circumstances. ... But somehow or another we figured out a way to do it."

This is not a team that is great by UConn standards, not yet and maybe not ever. When the comparison points are teams that had the likes of Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi or Moriah Jefferson, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, the bar is set high. Many of those former stars were seated a few rows behind the UConn bench on Monday, close enough that Auriemma joked he thought about using a couple of them when he looked at his scant substitution options.

But what they saw had to look familiar. It is familiar to those students who waited to see history (and, yes, get some face time on national television), even though some weren't old enough to have firsthand memories of the Bird highlights that played in the arena.

"We're extremely conscious," Nurse said of the history. "We understand that everything that we have here, all the opportunities we have and the benefits that we have about being this program strictly come from what they've done to build it into what it is today. I think even in practices, when you're dead tired, you can see the banners on the wall with their names and understand that they went through it and they pushed through it and they got this to what it is."

It makes this group the perfect group to reach a number like 100. The streak wasn't their creation, little of it their work. But it was theirs to maintain. It was entrusted upon them.

Nothing changes at UConn. Now not even the results.