UConn dominance in women’s basketball dynasty hearkens memories of past Louisiana prep hoops dominance

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Geno Auriemma

Nary a college student enjoys a Saturday class – especially one at night, especially one accompanied by a test.

For about 12 Tulane student-athletes, this Saturday night’s schedule features an exam infinitely more difficult than a final in senior physics.

Flying south from Storrs, Conn. to the Crescent City will the UConn women’s basketball team, fresh from its monumental 100th consecutive victory secured earlier this week against South Carolina and primed to make the Green Wave victim No. 101.

Connecticut, an 11-time NCAA champion, has a 25-0 mark and a combined 75-0 record during its stay in the American Athletic Conference dating back to 2013.

Coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies have caught and since surpassed the 88-game winning streak compiled by the UCLA Bruins of coaching legend John Wooden, a streak that began in January of 1971 and ended on Jan. 19 of 1974. No Division I basketball team has ever equaled UConn’s mark.

Tulane will enter the game with a 16-10 record, 7-6 in conference play and fresh off a 62-51  victory Wednesday night against Cincinnati 62-51.

Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. at Fogleman Arena.

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Although no Louisiana college basketball program can even sniff the accomplishments of a UConn, if you drop a notch to the high schools ranks, our state’s basketball history includes players, teams and coaches who can boast of some simply extraordinary stats and streaks.

For example:

Edna ‘Tiny’ Tarbutton, from the small community of Baskin located just north of Winnsboro, compiled a record that would even make Auriemma envious. In her 33 years as head coach at Baskin High, her teams won a staggering 218 consecutive games from 1947-’53 and eight state championships between 1948-55. Her 218 straight victories still remain a national record. After attaining a career mark of 654-263-2, she became one of only nine Louisiana athletes or coaches inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame.  Tarbutton died in 2009 at age 87.

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During a 13-year span from 1993-2005, the Kittens of Southern Lab in Baton Rouge captured  12 state boys basketball champions although one was later forfeited. Coach Joel Hawkins finished his career as the state’s winningest boys coach with a mark of 1,071-263 in 43 years on the bench. He died at age 77 in 2016.

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When Greg Procell concluded his high school career at Class C Ebarb High in Noble, La., he left as the all-time leading scorer in boys prep history. He still is – by 1,335 points. Now a fishing guide in north Louisiana, Procell scored a staggering 3,173 points as a senior, averaging 46.7 points as Ebarb played 68 games, finishing 56-12.  He concluded his career with 6,702 points, a mark that had stood for 46 years. MaxPreps regarded his accomplishments as the 10th greatest feat in high school athletics history.

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On a local level, St. Augustine, a five-time state basketball champion, enjoyed some enviable streaks of its own. The Purple Knights finished 35-0 in 1983 under its late coach Watson Jones and duplicated that state title victory feat in 1995 when the Purple Knights finished 38-1 and claimed a mythical national championship under Bernard Griffith, now an economics teacher at Sophie Wright.

“There were times at St. Aug when we would win 25 or 26 games in a row and, between 1990 and ’93, I think we only lost about four games. But we never talked about streaks,” said Griffith who has coached on the high school, collegiate and professional basketball levels.

“My job was to keep them on edge. Sometimes when we were playing and practicing so well that I had to find things to fuss at them about.  There were times when we looked perfect at practice but I still told them to get off the court. They probably thought I was crazy and they couldn’t figure out why. And they also thought I was serious.”

Griffith looks back fondly, recalling a story about one of his best players – Torrey Andrews.

“One season, we played Shaw about five times when they had (center) Melvin Simon. In one game, Torrey made this beautiful move to the basket and scored on a finger roll. When he came off the court, I told him you NEVER go inside soft — you always go in hard.”

Like Auriemma, Griffith preached the three Ds — discipline, drive and determination, and he demanded the best of each player.

“What he (Auriemma) has done at UConn is hard to believe,” said Griffith. “But one day, it’s (a loss) going to happen. It has to.”

Griffith looks fondly back on his 44-year coaching career, not for the victories or trophies or  state titles.

“I think about all you put in in coaching,” he said. “And all the guys you had an impact on. I still hear from a bunch of them.”

The 1995 squad, which crushed Catholic High 57-33 in the Top 28 championship game, won its five playoff games by margins of 18, 32, 36, 12 and 24 points – victories impressive enough to bring a national championship to St. Aug.

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When media members and coaches arrived for the 1977 Top 28 – the first ever held in Lake Charles — the overwhelming consensus was that the undefeated Dragons from nearby DeRidder would emerge victorious in Class 4A. The 40-0 Dragons had already defeated Rummel in a predistrict tournament and were led by a stellar senior performer named Mike Sanders.

But after each advanced in the semifinals, Rummel managed an unlikely upset 52-48, a triumph that set in motion a 50-game winning streak that stretched into the first game of 1979. In 1978, Rummel would roll to a 35-0 record and a second state title.

“We did not talk about any streak in ’78,” said Raiders coach Jim Robarts, now retired after subsequent coaching stints at Shaw and East Jefferson. “I knew the players were aware of it but I saw no signs of any added pressure.”

Oddly enough on the 40th anniversary of the 1977 title, Robarts says the DeRidder victory does not remain uppermost in the minds of his players.

“Most of them say that their most memorable game (during the streak) was the last district game of 1978 when De La Salle had a double-digit lead on us late in the fourth quarter and came back to win.

“In the 77 season, one thing happened that changed our identity. One of my players was poked in the eye and missed the season, so we replaced him with our sixth man, Jim Pittman, who was a defensive specialist. When we played DeRidder the first time, they were simply better than us. But when I saw them in the first game of the (’77) tournament, I thought they had remained the same and I knew we had improved. So I thought we had a chance.”

His team proved him right.

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Bill Bumgarner

Bill Bumgarner

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Born in Freeport, Texas, Bill moved to New Orleans in 1955. From that point on, Bumgarner has called this city home. Bill graduated from New Orleans Academy in 1967 before heading to Lafayette for college. He is a 1971 graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) with a degree in liberal arts in political science. Bumgarner cut his teeth in journalism as a writer with the school’s newspaper for three years,. Bill was then hired at The States-Item on Dec. 22, 1972 and remained on staff when that publication merged with the Times-Picayune. As primary assignments, Bumgarner covered…

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