After the final buzzer sounded and another win was in the books, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma found his family in the stands. He hugged his smiling mother, then kissed his happy wife.
Turns out, No. 88 meant something special after all.
Already with no equal in women's basketball, UConn won its 88th straight game yesterday to match the men's record set by coach John Wooden and his great UCLA teams from 1971-74. Tiffany Hayes scored 26 points and Maya Moore added 22 to help the top-ranked Huskies rout No. 11 Ohio State 81-50 in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.
"They were unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable," Auriemma said. "I like to remind my players all the time, you don't stumble and bumble into the history book. You'll have to do it the right way if you want to get in there. It may not come again."
The Huskies (10-0) can surpass the UCLA men tomorrow night at home against No. 15 Florida State.
Connecticut matched the Bruins' mark before a crowd of 15,232 - the second-biggest for a women's game at the Garden. With 40 seconds left, the fans rose and chanted "88! 88!"
Auriemma had downplayed the significance of the milestone. But unlike most of their previous wins during the streak, UConn players celebrated at midcourt.
"It's kind of mind-boggling," Moore said. "It's something special, but we're still in the middle of our season. You can't take in the full reality of what's going on. Moments like this you can sit and appreciate where you've come from."
Despite being raised in Philadelphia, Auriemma grew up a Knicks fan. The prized possession in his office isn't any of the trophies or awards he's won, it's an autographed basketball of the New York starting five from the 1970 NBA champions.
Ohio State (8-2) scored the game's first six points on consecutive three-pointers by Brittany Johnson. Then Hayes took over, scoring nine straight points on three layups and a three-pointer.
The Huskies led 29-21 before scoring nine straight, the last five by Kelly Ferris, to take a 38-21 lead, and led 40-26 at halftime. Moore ended any hopes of an Ohio State comeback, scoring nine of the Huskies' first 13 points in the second half.
The Huskies' last loss came against Stanford in the NCAA Tournament semifinals in 2008. Since then they have routed opponents in dominating fashion. Only twice during this unprecedented run has a team come within single digits of UConn, Stanford in the NCAA championship game last season and Baylor last month.
UConn has won by an average of nearly 25 points a game against ranked teams during the streak, and has trailed for just 134 minutes, only 13 in the second half.
This was the fifth annual Maggie Dixon Classic honoring the former Army women's coach, who died on April 6, 2006, of arrhythmia. Pittsburgh men's coach Jamie Dixon, Maggie's brother, said he had no idea that when Connecticut committed to the event it would be going for the milestone win.
"Maybe Maggie was looking down on us and figured it out on her own so we could get the Garden filled up for a women's college basketball game," said Dixon, who sat with his family at midcourt.
In the opening game, Danielle Adams scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead No. 8 Texas A & M (9-1) to a 79-50 victory over Rutgers (7-5).
In a men's game:
* At Notre Dame, Tim Abromaitis scored 22 points to lead No. 24 Notre Dame to an 88-62 win over Stony Brook (4-6). Carleton Scott had 20 points and Ben Hansbrough 14 points with eight assists for the Irish (10-1).