NASHVILLE - Geno Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer, Muffet McGraw and Brenda Frese have won national championships, using their styles to get the most out of their teams.
With the Final Four starting today, each stands two victories from another title.
"These four are the gold standard for coaches," Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. "They are different in personality but have the common ground of success."
Connecticut's Auriemma and Stanford's VanDerveer are in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Both also are in the women's basketball Hall of Fame, as is Notre Dame's McGraw. All three, along with Maryland's Frese, have been named the Associated Press coach of the year. McGraw earned her third honor Saturday. McGraw is the second coach to earn the honor back to back. The other is Auriemma.
The UConn coach has eight titles and can break a tie with former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt for most if the Huskies repeat.
Despite winning 44 straight games by mostly huge margins, Auriemma never lets the Huskies get too full of themselves. "It's hard for us to get cocky when you have a coach like him who kind of lets you know your weaknesses and makes sure you work on them all the time," senior guard Bria Hartley said.
VanDerveer, a two-time national champion with more than 900 wins, takes a more cerebral approach. "Tara teaches you how to watch film, to make sure you pay attention to details," said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who played for VanDerveer on the 1996 Olympic team. "She taught me how to do that."
McGraw has guided the Irish to four straight Final Fours and the 2001 national title. Her team had its first unbeaten regular season this year. "She's so intense and on us," Irish senior Kayla McBride said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing, she wants us to do the same thing against every single team."
Frese tends to be a player's coach. "She has such a passion and really relates well with her team," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
HUSKIE IS PLAYER OF YEAR: UConn guard-forward Breanna Stewart was named the Associated Press player of the year, the third sophomore to get the award. The 6-foot-4 Stewart helped the Huskies win the national title as a freshman and has been a major reason they are undefeated this season. "I just think she grew up," Auriemma said. "She has a year's more experience as to what it takes to go through a college basketball season, and knowing her, I think she is going to get better and better." Stewart, averaging a team-high 19.4 points a game, got 20 of 36 votes from a national media panel. Stanford forward Chiney Ogwumike received eight votes.
WNIT: Tyler Scaife scored with 2 seconds left as Rutgers, which ousted USF in the semifinals, edged host UTEP 56-54 in the final. The Scarlet Knights (28-9) led 30-16 at the half. UTEP (29-8) tied it at 54 with 7 seconds left.
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Women's Final Four
at Nashville (TV: ESPN)
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Maryland, 6:30 tonight
No. 1 UConn vs. No. 2 Stanford, about 9
Championship: 8:30 Tuesday