Nov. 20, 2010

ST. LOUIS (AP) -Before the Connecticut Huskies can set their sights on UCLA's 88-game winning streak, they need to get past the record set by the Washington Bears.

From 1998-2001, Washington University in St. Louis beat 81 straight teams, most of them soundly, while picking up four straight NCAA Division III titles. In a city preoccupied with the Cardinals, Blues and Rams, the run rolled on in relative obscurity until the Bears began to threaten UCLA's streak under legendary John Wooden from 1971-74.

Washington University's run was impossible to ignore, even if it was on a smaller stage in a quaint, old-school fieldhouse.

Nancy Fahey is still coaching the Bears, and she understands the pressure UConn coach Geno Auriemma and the Huskies are feeling to maintain the streak. UConn needs a win Sunday against Georgia Tech to tie the Bears' mark.

"We did everything we could to try to keep our lives day to day," said Fahey, in her 25th season at the school. "In Division III we don't get that much media attention, and we started getting a lot.

"And when we finally lost, we got more publicity than sometimes when we won."

Jennifer Rudis Deschamp, who played on two of those title teams, recalled the crushing disappointment of the 79-68 loss to Fontbonne, just across the street from the Washington University student dorms, on Jan. 12, 2001.

"It was just one of those weird nights when people weren't hitting, and the more we tried the more we failed," Deschamp said. "They were dancing around and jumping on the scorer's table.

"They broke our streak, so it was a big deal. It was painful."

UConn barely avoided that feeling on Tuesday when it won its 80th straight, rallying from a late eight-point deficit to beat No. 2 Baylor 65-64. Deschamp says she'll be rooting for the Yellow Jackets on Sunday.

"Yeah, I do care," Deschamp said. "I was watching that game against Baylor pretty closely, and as they get closer to breaking our record, you get a little sentimental."

Fahey said jokingly that if she hadn't been paying attention to UConn, somebody surely would remind her that the record was in serious jeopardy. When she picked up her cell phone after attending a banquet the night of UConn's close call, there were several text updates and voice messages.

"It sounded like a great game, but that's why they're so good. They pulled it out," Fahey said. "It's an incredible streak they've got going."

But streaks aren't everything.

Three nights after the Fontbonne setback, Washington University whipped Brandeis by 49 points to launch a 14-2 finish and win another national title.

"That's a long time to not lose a ballgame and I'm very proud of it," Fahey said. "There was a long hallway outside the locker room after we lost and I heard the kids going 'OK, that's over with. Let's get back to playing basketball.'

"If we had a chance between the streak and winning a title, we made the right choice."

Fahey is pretty sure UConn knows that Washington University is in the Midwest, but she's never met the Huskies' coach.

"I would imagine," Fahey said, "that Geno Auriemma is a pretty busy man."