1. Sports

Battle gets dose of bad blood

Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw says there’s little chance of having a civil relationship with Geno Auriemma.
Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw says there’s little chance of having a civil relationship with Geno Auriemma.
Published Apr. 8, 2014

NASHVILLE — The Connecticut and Notre Dame women will meet in an unprecedented championship game tonight, the first ever between unbeaten teams.

It's a pretty gripping plotline. And it's elevated by a simmering feud between the coaches.

Muffet McGraw and Geno Auriemma clearly don't much like each other. Civility? Not a chance.

"I think we are past that point," McGraw said on Monday.

McGraw, the Notre Dame coach, said her relationship with Auriemma deteriorated after the schools left the Big East, the Irish for the ACC and Connecticut for the American Athletic Conference.

"I think that got lost," McGraw said. "When we were in the same conference, there was a modicum of it. But I think after beating them and still not feeling any respect for that, we definitely lost something."

Auriemma called McGraw's remarks "nonsense."

"I could sit here and list 10,000 coaches that don't interact with each other whose rivalries are intense," he said. "This is a function of women's basketball.

"Sometimes we act like girls, like we're supposed to go to dinner every night. We're supposed to play each other, try to beat each other's brains in, try to win a national championship and compete like hell, Muffet and Geno. And then we're supposed to get together afterward and go have a bottle of wine? That (expletive) is just not going to happen."

The rivalry intensifies what already promised to be a memorable showdown between the Huskies (39-0), who are seeking their second straight title and ninth under Auriemma; and the Irish (37-0), who are looking for their first since 2001.

"I think it's something that everyone's looked forward to all year long," McGraw said. "People were hoping we would end up here. It's great for the game and I think it's great we're both undefeated coming into it. It should be a great matchup for women's basketball."

Auriemma agreed that this matchup could help grow the women's game.

"An awful lot of people might tune in (tonight) that wouldn't normally tune in," he said. "A game on national television between two great teams, nothing could be better for the sport."

It will be a battle of contrasting styles: Notre Dame's efficient offense vs. UConn's strangling defense.

The Irish have scored at least 84 in all five NCAA Tournament games and can create from anywhere on the court. The Huskies have been somewhat listless offensively, but that hasn't mattered thanks to their suffocating defense, which takes away the 3-pointer and keeps opponents from getting to the free-throw line.

Notre Dame has owned the series lately, winning seven of the past nine meetings. The Irish players have a simple explanation.

"We're not afraid of them," Irish sophomore star Jewell Loyd said. "You know a lot of people, like Kayla (McBride) was saying, they look at the jersey and they're just like, 'Oh my gosh!' Obviously, UConn is a great program, they've done a lot of things that other programs haven't done. But we go in there, we have that swagger, that chip on our shoulder that we're coming in to battle."

The Huskies have their own motivation. A win would give Auriemma the women's record for championships, passing Tennessee legend Pat Summitt in Summitt's back yard.

Auriemma claimed he doesn't "get caught up in that stuff. … Wednesday morning when I wake up, my life doesn't change one iota."

But Stefanie Dolson, UConn's 6-5 center, is happy to be a part of it.

"It's amazing," she said. "We don't really talk about as a team, it's just something that we know that we have the chance help him kind of win that ninth one. … But if it happens, for all of us, now we have two of the nine. You know we have, like I was talking about that small piece of history. It's just something we have a chance to kind of add to the legacy of UConn and add to Coach's legacy."