Jerry Sullivan: UConn hoop women all dominance and no drama - The Buffalo News

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Jerry Sullivan: UConn hoop women all dominance and no drama

Column as I see 'em:

The Connecticut women's basketball team won its 100th consecutive game early this week, beating sixth-ranked South Carolina, 66-55, in what qualifies as a nail-biter by the lofty standards of Geno Auriemma's remarkable program.

Do you know how many of those 100 victories were decided by single digits? Two. That includes a couple of six-game runs to the NCAA championship, when UConn dispatched its 12 victims by an average margin of 37.2 points.

During the 100-game winning streak, the Huskies outscored teams by an average of 38.4 points, or roughly a point more than they beat teams in the Big Dance. So it's obvious that they could be thrashing their meeker opposition even worse during the regular season.

I'm a big fan of women's sports. That's the main reason I love the Summer Olympics, where the American women outnumber the men and show a much deeper appreciation for the experience.

But while UConn's achievement is historic and amazing, it leaves me a little cold. The thing I like best about following sports is a good game, and that's what you rarely get with the Huskies − a close, gripping game where the lead shifts back and forth and the outcome gets decided late, or in overtime.

Jeff Jacobs, my best friend and fellow Newport, R.I. native, is the sports columnist in Hartford and has covered more women's basketball than anyone I know. At the Super Bowl, we argued about whether UConn's domination was good for women's basketball, and whether Auriemma got too many top players.

He assured me that this team is more beatable than the teams that won the last four national titles (they've won a record 11 NCAA championships under Auriemma). Well, they graduated three women from last year's team who went in the WNBA draft − first, second and third overall, to be precise.

Auriemma doesn't get all the best players, of course. But he gets more than his share. High school girls dream of playing for UConn. Auriemma is one of the best hoop coaches of all time, men's or women's, which has allowed him to build a dynasty that is virtually unassailable. He's a great interview, too.

But I wish they wouldn't win so much, or by so much. Their streak gives the impression that women's basketball, which has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 30 years, hasn't sufficiently evolved. I wonder how much fun it can be to win more than half your games by 40, and get your most competitive games in practice.

Of course, I felt the same way when I was a kid. The great UCLA men's teams of John Wooden dominated college basketball like no team before or since. Under Wooden, they won 10 of 12 NCAA titles between 1964 and 1975. It didn't seem fair that one team got Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton and so many top Eastern guards who might have gone to Providence.

I imagine there were critics who complained when UCLA's men went unbeaten in 1971-72, outscoring its opponents by 30.3 points a game, still a record. They won five games by 50 points or more that year.

Well, the other programs soon caught up to UCLA. The game changed. Cable TV ushered in a new era, where talent was spread more evenly around the country. In time, the same will happen in women's hoops. The world needs to catch up to the U.S., too, because Olympic women's basketball is also painfully one-sided.

In the meantime, the UConn women are more a dominant display than a breezy entertainment. But pay attention in March. My buddy Jake tells me they could actually lose in the NCAAs this year. Or at least play a close game.

* * *

By now, I'm tired of Bills fans asking if Chad Kelly could be the answer to the quarterbacking woes that date to his uncle Jim's retirement. But it doesn't seem fair for the NFL to rescind his invitation to the Combine, without giving a detailed explanation.

Kelly has been guilty of serial misbehavior, one reason I wouldn't want him in Buffalo. Still, he hasn't done anything that should get him banned from the league's annual meat market. Teams deserve a chance to evaluate his physical skills, and to find out if he's truly put his troubles behind him.

One has to assume the ban is based on character. A rule that was instituted a year ago excludes a player whose background contains "either a felony or misdemeanor conviction" that involves weapons, sexual assault or domestic violence. A player could be disallowed for refusing a background check.

Kelly was charged with resisting arrest and other charges after a scuffle outside a Buffalo bar three years ago. He agreed to community service, which his agents say would not qualify as a criminal conviction.

The NFL's lack of transparency could lead one to believe they some other crime. It's unfair to Kelly and his family to raise speculation about his criminal past. If they have some unknown reason for excluding him, they should say so.

* * *

Florida's Jaromir Jagr scored the 1,900th point of his NHL career Wednesday in the Panthers' 6-5 OT win at San Jose − on his 45th birthday. Jagr is second all-time in points behind Wayne Gretzky, who remains nearly 1,000 points ahead of the field with 2,857.

How old is Jagr? He debuted on Oct. 5, 1990 in Washington, when the first George Bush was in the White House. That was a month before Dominik Hasek played his first NHL game, and Dom is now 52 years old.

More than half of today's Sabres weren't even born when Jagr took the ice with the Penguins that night. Bryan Trottier, Paul Coffey and Joey Mullen were on his team. Kevin Stevens had six points. Mike Liut was the Caps' goalie. Jagr, who was 18, didn't score.

* * *

The Sharks' home loss to the Panthers continued a rough patch that began on Feb. 7 in Buffalo when they blew a 4-1 lead in the final 11 minutes of the third period and lost in overtime, 5-4.

The Sharks, who still lead the Pacific Division by three points, have given up six goals twice in four outings since the meltdown at KeyBank Center. Dating to a home loss to Arizona before their Buffalo trip, they're 1-1-4, with three losses in OT and one in a shootout.

Goalie Martin Jones has given up 14 goals in his last 153 minutes, starting with Ryan O'Reilly's goal that started the comeback in Buffalo. Jones has stopped 77 of his last 92 shots (.837 save pct.). He's second among NHL goalies in games played behind Edmonton's Cam Talbot, and seems to be getting fatigued.

* * *

The Raptors, who have fallen to fourth place in the East, made a desperate move to bolster their front line by acquiring power forward Serge Ibaka from Orlando. Toronto gave up a first-round pick and Terrence Ross for Ibaka, a former two-time NBA block champion.

Clearly, the Raptors needed a defensive force if they hoped to get past Cleveland in a playoff series. They're a nice offensive team, but soft play inside has been their undoing in the postseason. In last year's conference final, the Cavs shot 54.2 percent in their four wins against them.

The question is whether Ibaka, 27, can be the paint protector he was when he led the league in blocks from 2011-13. He's averaging 1.6 blocks, the fewest since his rookie year. He'll take some of the scoring load off Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but it's post defense the Raptors need most.

* * *

As of Tuesday, the St. Bonaventure men were 19th in the nation in free-throw shooting at 76.5 percent. You can count on Mark Schmidt's teams to excel at the line. Last season, the Bonnies finished fourth in the country at 77.3 percent, the third time in five years they ranked in the top 16 out of 300-plus teams.

It helps to have Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, who have combined to shoot more than half of Bona's foul shots. Adams is 13th in the country in made free throws and makes 82 percent. Mobley is fifth in makes in the A-10 and shoots 84.8.

Between them, Adams and Mobley are 262 for 315, for 83.2 percent.

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