Undaunted by three previous defeats to Notre Dame this season, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Monday he’s confident the result will be different if the teams meet again at the women’s basketball Final Four in New Orleans.
“Had we been beaten decisively in all three games, I would feel terrible,” said Auriemma, the guest speaker at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast. “But I don’t feel that way at all. My staff, my players and I feel like we lost those three games.
“And we’re not going to lose the next one.”
The Huskies will find out later Monday under what circumstances that could happen when the NCAA Selection Committee maps out its field of 64 for the upcoming tournament.
The Huskies (29-4) will be trying to make their sixth straight Final Four and win an eighth national championship.
If Notre Dame and UConn are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 overall in the field of 64, a potential fourth game this season would come in the national semifinals. It would be the third straight season the teams have met there. Notre Dame has won the last two.
If the Huskies are ranked No. 4, which is unlikely, they would have to wait until a possible national championship game – and first survive a possible rematch with defending champion Baylor in the semifinal. The Lady Bears defeated UConn, 76-70, in Hartford on Feb. 18.
Even though UConn has lost seven of its last eight to Notre Dame, Auriemma based his prediction on how the three most recent meetings with the Irish have played out.
“The reality of the situation is [if a team is defeated] that, you are either going to lose the game or you are going to get beat. But those are two separate things,” Auriemma said.
“If play exceptionally well and get beat, well, it’s a part of sports and I think every coach and every player appreciates that.
“But if you come out a game feeling like as if you lost, that’s a bad, bad feeling, really bad.
“So let’s look at the Notre Dame games this season: In the first one [Jan. 5 at Gampel Pavilion], we had three chances to win the game at the end with wide open shots we didn’t make. We felt we lost that game [Notre Dame, 73-72].
“When we played there [March 4], all we needed to do was make one more free throw to win and we didn’t. That’s bad. We felt like we lost that game [Notre Dame, 96-87 in three overtimes].
“And then [in the Big East final on March 12] we had a chance to win the game with 18.6 seconds left and it ends up with Notre Dame winning [61-59] with a layup. We feel like we lost that game.”
The Huskies almost certainly will be the No. 1 seed in the Bridgeport Regional and begin play Saturday at Gampel Pavilion against the No. 16 seed. A second-round game against the 8-9 winner would be Monday.
Should the Huskies advance to the Sweet 16 – like they have for the last 19 seasons – they will play in Bridgeport the following weekend.
Auriemma said the Huskies are prepared to move ahead no longer dwelling on that’s happened in the past.
“We’ve seen gotten past that,” Auriemma said. “We are not going to talk about that [the three losses to Notre Dame] because this is a new season. And as you know, whatever happens in the regular season usually doesn’t have a lot of carry over to the postseason.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned over years it’s that, we’ve been undefeated in the regular season [1996-97] and not won the championship and we’ve lost games and won the national championship [three times]. So you try to convince the players, and sometimes it’s hard, that it is a whole new season that only lasts three weeks, if you are lucky.
“If you carry some of the baggage from the regular season with you, or if you are undefeated and think you can’t lose, it’s not a good thing.”