As the UConn women's basketball team attempts to win its 89th consecutive game tonight, the program's alumni will be hanging on every shot. And for those who contributed to the winning streak, there's a vested interest in UConn's quest to pass the revered 88-game streak of the UCLA men.
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Charles was an integral part of the first 78 victories in the streak, graduating to a professional career with the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA after the Huskies won their second consecutive title last year. She was there when the streak began with a season-opening victory over Georgia Tech on Nov. 16, 2008 and was a catalyst over the next two seasons.
And she admits she thought about the streak during her senior year.
"I thought about how I could be a part of history," Charles said. "Coach would say during my senior year that other teams are playing to win, but we would play to win and to make history."
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Auriemma has been at UConn since 1985, so there are multiple generations for former Huskies brimming with pride as their alma mater makes history. The recent alums, though, are perhaps more immersed in the pursuit.
Former UConn forward Cassie Kerns, a member of the 2008-09 team, is living in downtown Indianapolis and few of her current acquaintances know about her basketball past. But when the subject of the streak arises, Kerns can't help but tell people she was there when it all began a few years ago.
"I do feel like I'm a part of it," Kerns said. "I love it when people comment on the games, and I'm like, 'Yeah, I was part of that streak.' People can't believe it. So, yeah, I think I'm still part of it. I kind of helped set the foundation."
In Israel, former guard Renee Montgomery is an active UConn supporter on Twitter. Montgomery, who is playing professionally overseas after her first season with the Sun, was a starter on the 2008-09 team that started the streak. But she does feel somewhat removed from it.
"It's hard to explain," Montgomery said in an e-mail. "I know that I was a part of the streak, but now I feel like I'm observing history and not necessarily a part of it. I cheer them on as if I am still a part of the team, which is also a reason I made the shirts [that read], 'Records are meant to Broken.' "
Mel Thomas, who graduated in 2008 and was not part of the streak, is in her first year as director of basketball operations at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. As Thomas enters the world of coaching, she is often asked the secret to UConn's success.
She attributes the consistently high level of performance to the talent, yes, but also to the structure imposed by Auriemma and associate head coach Chris Dailey.
"When you've won that many games and you're the target, everybody wants to be the team that beats you," Thomas said. "You have the bull's-eye on your back. ... There's so much tradition and so much discipline in the program, you learn to be focused every day."
When the streak began, UConn was coming off a loss to Stanford in the 2008 national semifinals. Kerns said the loss was an eye-opener for the Huskies, who returned the next season with hunger to win a title.
"We all decided to just grind down and do it for ourselves," Kerns said. "We were all on the same page."
The theme of the season, Montgomery said, was "Natty or Bust." Natty, for the uninitiated, is slang for national championship.