NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Connecticut and Notre Dame may have spent too much time together in the Big East — and it apparently got annoying.
They played each other 12 times over the previous three seasons. But with Notre Dame moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference, they didn’t play this year — setting up Tuesday night’s title game between the undefeated squads. It’s the first time in the NCAA tournament that unbeaten teams have played — either the men or women.
Still, absence has not made their hearts grow fonder — especially not the coaches.
“We don’t have a relationship,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think that (the civility) got lost. When we were in the same conference, I think there was a modicum of it, but I think after beating them and not feeling any respect from that, we lost something.”
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma believes it’s only natural for the teams be testy having played so many times lately. Only the Irish bolting for a new conference ended the repeated showdowns.
“Once you play each other two, three, four times a year it gets pretty intense for lots of reasons,” Auriemma said. “It’s only natural. It will probably die down now that we’re not in same conference and we play each other once a year, maybe two. What was happening before wasn’t realistic, that’s not normal. It’s not healthy.”
Here are five things to know about Tuesday’s women’s title game between UConn and Notre Dame:
TITLE NINE or DOUBLE-DOWN: It’s a topic neither the Huskies nor Auriemma talk about, but possibly because it’s been so obvious since UConn won its eighth national championship a year ago. Nine is waiting along with history as the first women’s program to win that many titles. It would put Auriemma only one title shy of the 10 championships John Wooden won at UCLA. Notre Dame isn’t interested the number nine, their favorite number right now is two.
GOT HUSKIES’ NUMBER: There’s one reason why these teams don’t like each other. Well, the Irish not only have had success recently against UConn, they have dominated the Huskies lately winning seven of the last nine games between the teams. The title game will be their fourth straight NCAA tournament meeting and the first with the title on the line.
SOCIAL MEDIA: The Huskies and Irish take on their coach’s personalities on the court and on social media. UConn players stay off Twitter, under orders from Auriemma, and his rules extend even to forbidding the use of nail polish. That shocked Notre Dame senior guard Kayla McBride, who says she likes to use Twitter to engage with fans. Nail polish also isn’t an issue at Notre Dame. In fact, it’s Irish tradition to paint their fingernails green for the NCAA tournament, though some freshen their nails up more than others. “We have to wear it,” McBride said.
BLUNT COACHES: McBride has played four seasons with McGraw and also for Auriemma at USA Basketball, and she said both coaches are very honest and to the point. She said Auriemma got her attention at an early practice with what she called a “cheap shot” on how she shot the ball during a drill designed to both shoot and pass. That’s nothing. Dolson said Auriemma put a piece of paper on the floor during one of her first practices to note how high she had jumped for a rebound.
PUTTING A BODY ON UCONN: The Irish know exactly what they could have done better a year ago when they lost the national semifinal to UConn: box out for rebounds. To make sure they remembered that, McGraw had them watch that semifinal loss when this season started. The Irish have to run in practice when they don’t stake out their ground under the basket to Notre Dame standards. The Irish got 50 rebounds beating Maryland in the semifinal, and senior Ariel Braker said she thinks everyone will have a different mentality going into the title game with boxing out a top priority.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.
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