I don’t claim to be a savant of women’s basketball, but I admit to a fascination with numbers – statistical improbabilities — and one number caught my eye the other day – 33. That’s how many consecutive times the University of Washington women have defeated Washington State.
I’m stupefied by that. But then, I was stupefied when it hit 30, 31 and 32.
Knowing a bit of the history of series streaks on the men’s side, I went searching in the NCAA women’s record book for such streaks. But the NCAA says it hasn’t researched them for women, so I initially compared the UW women’s streak against the men’s top 10, for lack of a better yardstick.
Then I waded into the school-record streaks of some of the preeminent women’s programs, now and in the past. So while I haven’t come up with a top-10 list of such streaks, at least we can work up a rough template.
Stanford’s 52-game win streak over Washington State – the Cardinal has never lost to the Cougars – is the biggest I could find. Ironically, that matches the men’s all-time record, which was UCLA over Cal from 1961-86.
Not so ironically, more like ominously, the Cougars travel to Stanford this week.
Connecticut doesn’t have the outlandish streak you might expect. It has won 27 straight against Seton Hall and St. John’s and 26 in a row against three other Big East programs. (Still, that’s a whole lot of dominance.)
Of the other likely suspects, Tennessee has a 40-game streak against South Carolina; Duke has reeled off 36 in a row against Wake Forest; Old Dominion has a 49-game run on William and Mary; Louisiana Tech has a 38-game hold on Louisiana Lafayette; and Texas once had a 44-game skein on Houston.
Meanwhile, on the men’s side, five of the top 10 streaks are between a power-conference team against a lesser-conference program, like Syracuse against Colgate. (Tied for No. 6 on that list is the WSU men’s 38-game losing streak against Arizona from 1986-2004, broken by Dick Bennett’s second Cougar team.)
Which brings me to my amazement at the UW-WSU series.
It’s tempting to call them like programs, but that might be a stretch. Except in recent years, the UW has been middling to good to once in a while very good, while the Cougars have traditionally been a bottom feeder. In 2001-02, they went 2-27 under Jenny Przekwas.
But this isn’t Tennessee against the most woebegone Southeastern Conference program. It isn’t as though Washington is a colossus. Think about this: The streak started in the 1995-96 season, and eight times in that span, the Huskies have had a 9-9 league record or poorer.
Yet they always, like the swallows and Capistrano, beat the Cougars. The year the streak started, in ’96, Washington was 10-8, WSU 8-10.
In 2000, Washington was 4-14 in league and won twice (WSU was 1-17).
In 2009, the Huskies were 3-15 and finished alone in the Pac-10 cellar. Didn’t matter. Two wins for the UW.
Off the top of my head, I can see one possible reason it might be so hard to end such frustration. Say the Huskies had a 10-game streak on the men’s side and came to Pullman with a 13-6 record, while the Cougars were a middling team at 9-9. You could envision a red-out, this-is-where-it-ends crusade where the arena is full and the atmosphere simply pulls the underdog team through.
On the other hand, the Cougars drew 1,310 Saturday night, and while that was a step up in support, it’s not such a gathering as to will its team to a win.
Entering that game, the improved Cougars were 3-1 in the Pac-12, the Huskies were 1-3, and WSU had a healthy 50 in the RPI computer rankings. WSU was without sharpshooting guard Ireti Amojo, out with a knee injury, but the Huskies were minus post player Regina Rogers, their leading scorer.
June Daugherty is the Cougar coach, owner of the last nine losses in a streak of which she was a major part on the other side as Washington coach. During those latest nine games, the Huskies have been 26-51 in the Pac-12.
Afterward, she said, “I didn’t think we played with a high level of energy that first 20 minutes at all.”
Chew on that one. If Daugherty’s observation is accurate, you didn’t have energy playing an arch-rival that, for 16 years, has beaten you like a carpet on a clothesline?
One more reason to be stupefied.