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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, April 07, 2014

No love lost between UConn's Auriemma, Notre Dame's McGraw

If tomorrow night's national-title game is even close to being as intense as the cold war between rival coaches Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw, this could be something special.

McGraw has historically been politically correct in her dealings with the Connecticut and national media but she wasn't holding back when the subject of her relationship with Auriemma.

“We don’t have a relationship,” McGraw said.  “I think that (the civility) got lost. When we were in the same conference (the Big East) I think there was a modicum of it but I think after beating them and not feeling any respect from that, we lost something.“I think there was always some mutual respect when we first started and I like to think that is still there on our part.”

So how would McGraw, who has led her team to wins in seven of the last nine meetings, describe the relationship between her and Auriemma?

“It’s heated,” McGraw said. “I don’t think there’s any question it’s the most intense rivalry we’ve ever been involved with. I think it’s the lack of respect. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things. I think that it is the heated intensity of the games. It’s the bragging rights that go along with the wins. I think it’s a lot of those things.”

Auriemma didn’t pull any punches when asked to ponder where his relationship with McGraw soured.
“I haven’t changed in 25, 30 years,” Auriemma said. “I don't think anything about me has changed. People who know me know I haven't changed, and the program hasn't changed and the respect we have for everybody else hasn't changed.

“We think we're the best basketball program in America, but we don't flaunt it, we don't go around talking about it all the time. So, I haven't changed. But a funny thing happens to people once they start beating us. Everything changes to people. It's just the world we live in. I've learned to deal with it. I don't put too much stock into what anybody says. For me I'm at an age now where, if it's not happening between the lines, I really don't care. I don't care what anybody says. I don't care what anybody does. I don't care what conference you're in or what school you're at. I don't care about anything. I'm at an age where I spend whatever time I need to spend worrying about those 40 minutes we're going to be playing.”

The deterioration of the relationship is similar to what happened between Auriemma and former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Some of that was traced to fierce recruiting battles over the same elite prospects and Auriemma’s wise-cracking ways did not sit well with Summitt. Finally, she put an end to the highest profile non-conference series in women’s basketball.

With that series abruptly halted and no postseason meetings between the teams currently tied with a women’s Division I record eight national titles, there was a void for a new rivalry to emerge.
Now UConn and Notre Dame are meeting in the Final Four for the fourth straight year. It has made for some quality theater. The Fighting Irish eliminated UConn in the national semifinals in 2011 and 2012 including bringing an end to Maya Moore’s career with the Huskies. UConn lost to Notre Dame three times during the 2012-13 season but buoyed by a 29-point eruption by then freshman Breanna Stewart, UConn defeated the Fighting Irish in the Final Four en route to winning its eighth national title.

“I don't think that we are very fond of each other,” Stewart said. “I think everyone knows that. But, at the same time, we still respect each other and know that tomorrow night; it's going to be a huge battle.”

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