The extreme nature of a winning streak

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JANUARY 26, 2012

A winning streak stands out because it defies common logic. It draws attention because it’s so unnatural — we take something that we’ve deemed impossible and watch it come to fruition before our eyes. The numbers are there, in black and white, but with no explanation to back them up, they become inexplicable outliers. There’s no way to simplify something so extreme.

Stanford’s winning streak is just that — an extreme. The Cardinal has won 73 consecutive home games. Maples Pavilion  hasn’t experienced a women’s basketball loss since March 2007.

Since that upset by Florida nearly five years ago, Stanford has made it to the NCAA Final Four every single year  — two of which it stretched to runner-up finishes. And for the next 73 games the Card hosted, every visiting team left a loser.

Theoretically, at any given game, each team is only in control of itself, halfway in control of the outcome. But control of one’s destiny simultaneously implies an inherent dependence on the opponent being unable to control its own.

Lady Luck shows blatant favoritism whenever the Cardinal returns home. Stanford doesn’t take a meager half when when fate divvies up the odds of control — the team bends the rules in its favor and, inevitably, preserves that unlikely streak for one more day.

In a nutshell, Stanford is too good to be believed.

And that idea goes beyond the hot streak. The Maples Pavilion perfect record is unbelievable, and so it the talent that sustains it. At the forefront of Stanford’s formidable attack charge the Ogwumike sisters: senior Nneka and sophomore Chiney. With stats that some DI men’s coaches would drool over (among them Chiney’s 59 percent shooting average and Nneka’s average 11.2 rebounds per game), the sister act doesn’t belong in the Pac-12, or even the women’s side of the NCAA. Nneka could pretty seamlessly become the fifth starter on the Cal men’s team (which in itself tops the bottom-heavy conference); Chiney would most likely be first off the bench.

The No. 4 Cardinal is perfect in the conference thus far, its closest scrape an eight-point win over USC on the road at the very end of December.  In fact, the only loss the team experienced this season was at the hands of UConn, 68-58.

But the Cal-Stanford rivalry still  defies a little bit of its own logic. The last Pac-12 team to topple the Cardinal at home was — you guessed it —  Cal, in 2007. The last time a conference foe ever bested Stanford was in 2009, when Cal cobbled together a a 57-54 victory. If any team is going to give Stanford a run for its money, it’s Cal.

With their sole possession of second place, the Bears are still nonetheless on the other side of a gaping chasm that separates the impossibly stacked Stanford from the rest of the middling conference. But this year’s team has a streak of its own to protect: six consecutive wins that all but banish a disastrous Los Angeles road trip in the final days of 2011. Though certainly not as impressive as Stanford’s streak, it’s still a feat to desperately defend.

It’s all very “Charge of the Light Brigade,” only with fluorescent lights and foam fingers. This weekend the Bears will march into Maples Pavilion, knowing that the odds don’t stack in their favor and their opponents are impossibly superior. This weekend is but to do and die in a stadium-seated Valley of Death. One streak will snap on Saturday — that much can’t be defied.

Contact Annie Gerlach at 


JANUARY 26, 2012