For the last two decades, every significant event in women’s college basketball history has seemingly involved UConn, either as a starting, middle or end point.
The Huskies and Geno Auriemma; everywhere, every place, every year.
So it will be again tonight in the first championship game battle of unbeatens in the history of college basketball at the Bridgestone Arena.
“I think it was kind of inevitable, wasn’t it? I think you guys [the media] probably had that one on your calendars probably by February 1,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
“I think the whole country was so distracted and enamored with the matchup that it’s kind of nice to be in that moment. We really tried to block it all out and I thought did a really good job of that during the year.
“But now it’s great to have the two best teams in the country playing each other for a national championship.”
In one corner is the challenger, Notre Dame (37-0), feisty and confident in its capability of staggering UConn.
In the other are the Huskies (39-0), the defending national champion, who rolled through the season with an uninterrupted string of double-digit victories.
If UConn wins, Auriemma will have his women’s record ninth national championship, surpassing Tennessee’s Pat Summitt in her home state.
And, of course, it will complete UConn’s sweep of Division I college basketball national championships started Monday night by its men against Kentucky. It would be just the second time in history one school took both titles in the same year. The last: UConn in 2004.
“There needs to be more rivalries like Connecticut and Notre Dame. There needs to be more games like Connecticut and Notre Dame where the intensity level is that high, where you have so many good players on the floor playing at a real high level,” Auriemma said.
“And there are more than there have been in the past, but I think people out there need to see it. And I think it’s good that an awful lot of people on a really big stage are going to get to see it tomorrow night. “
The game compels on many levels. The teams feature five WBCA All-Americans, highlighted by the Associated Press and Naismith player of the year (Breanna Stewart) and Notre Dame’s Kayla McBridfe, as tough and talented a player as there is in the game. The AP coach of the year is Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw.
They are former Big East rivals who will play for the 13th time in the last four seasons. Last year, the Irish beat UConn twice in the regular season and the then again for the tournament championship before Huskies avenged it all by beating them in the national semifinals in New Orleans.
And now as they prepare for tonight’s title game, they find themselves in the midst of a simmering feud which bubbled up during Monday’s pregame press conferences when McGraw, for the first time publically, admitted her increasing annoyance with Auriemma and his program.
“I don’t think Muffet’s going to win the game tomorrow night. I don’t think I’m going to win it. I don’t think I’m going to lose it. I don’t think Muffet’s going to lose it,” Aureimma said. “So all that other stuff I think it would be much more interesting if Kayla McBride and Stewy were going at it, like they do in the NBA. You don’t see in the NBA the coaches saying this, that, the other thing. It’s all the players talking trash.
“I think it’s [the animosity] just natural. I don’t know why everybody thinks it’s like a big deal or that it’s like a wow moment. I can’t believe that. I just think it’s natural. Like when we came along and started beating Tennessee, you know at some point it was going to get a little chippy. And it did.
“So you know at some point when you play Notre Dame enough times and it’s not one?sided anymore. For the longest time, from 2001 to I don’t know when, it was all one?sided. So, of course, it was civil. Because it just doesn’t have that intensity level yet. But then once you start playing each other two, three times, four times a year, it gets pretty intense for lots of reasons. It’s only natural. It’s only natural. It will probably die down, now that we’re not in the same conference, now that we probably are only going to play each other once a year.”