Notre Dame's McGraw and UConn's Auriemma maintain icy relationship in heated rivalry
There's no denying how this is how it's supposed to be — two undefeated rivals playing for the national championship, breezing past everyone else in their quests for perfection.
Notre Dame (37-0) and Connecticut (39-0) locked in a national championship showdown in Music City Tuesday, April 8.
"In college basketball, this is it," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw told WNDU Monday. "This is the biggest rivalry in the women's game."
The story scripts itself. And it will play out at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
But not before McGraw and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma could exchange a few pot shots.
When told Auriemma was complementary of Notre Dame's win over Maryland Sunday, McGraw quipped, "That's a first."
Is this a heated rivalry?
"Oh, it's heated," she said."I don't think there's any question its the most intense rivalry we've ever been involved with."
McGraw elaborated on why the rivalry was so heated, boiling it down to "a lack of respect" on UConn's part.
A few years ago, that lack of respect would have made more sense. UConn had pinned Notre Dame with a 28-2 series record before 2011. But since then, Notre Dame has won seven of the last nine. In fact, of UConn's 11 losses in six seasons, six of them have come at the hands of the Irish.
"That's the biggest thing," she said. "I think its the heated intensity of the game, the bragging rights that go along with the wins. I think its a lot of those things."
Though UConn and Notre Dame did not face each other in the regular season this year, the rivalry managed to stay afloat after the Big East dissolved and new schedules came out. Asked why UConn wasn't on Notre Dame's 2013-14 slate, McGraw said UConn ducked the game. Auriemma's retort: "It’s not nice for Muffet to fib during Lent."
"Certainly the rivalry has gone a little away from the civility it was when we were in the league together," McGraw said.
When asked if she could imagine the civility returning, she said, "I think we're past that point."
But McGraw wasn't the only one taking shots on Monday. At first, Auriemma resisted taking the bait:
"We've got two really, really good teams. Forget the other stuff. The other stuff is such nonsense. Really, that's nonsense. I could sit here and list 10,000 coaches that don't interact with each other whose rivalries are intense. 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 afterwards and go have a bottle of wine. That's just not going to happen. So stop asking us why it doesn't happen."
But once he heard McGraw's comment on UConn's exceedingly low foul average each game (12), Auiremma had a retort.
“The only thing more amazing than how we’ve committed so few fouls, is how many free throws (Notre Dame has) shot against us in the last three years,” he said. “Only one team in America gets to shoot free throws against us. You want to call that amazing? That’s amazing.”
Asked if there was an advantage to exchanging shots before the championship game, Auriemma replied:
"I don't think it means anything at all. This isn't Muhammad Ali taunting Joe Frazier. That's not what this is about. I think deep down that's not who Muffet is, and that's not who I am. We don't sit up here and taunt each other because we're trying to get under each other's skin. I don't think that's got any part of it. It's superfluous."
"See, we use big words at Connecticut, too.”