NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- They both have ties to the Philadelphia area. Their relationship was warm. They spoke about one another fondly. They had some playful exchanges on the sidelines before games.
This was before UConn and Notre Dame became the hottest rivalry in women's college basketball. Much has changed. And on the eve of a historic battle of unbeatens in the NCAA tournament final tonight at Bridgestone Arena (8:30; ESPN), Irish coach Muffet McGraw made it clear that her relationship with UConn coach Geno Auriemma is nonexistent.
"We don't have a relationship,'' 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.''
McGraw said that it would be difficult at this point for any civility to return to the rivalry. And she went as far as saying that it would be a fair assumption that "hate" can be used to describe the overriding feeling between the two teams.
"It's a little bit like how you feel about a bully,'' McGraw said. "You have to go in there and be confident and attack. I don't think you can sit back and listen to everything that's being said.''
UConn (39-0) and Notre Dame (37-0) met four times in each of the last three seasons before the Irish moved to the ACC this season. They met in the national semifinals every year during this span, with Notre Dame winning in 2011 and 2012 and seven of the last nine meetings in the series overall.
Auriemma showed restraint Monday by not exchanging in all-out war of words with McGraw.
"I think when you play as often as we have in a short period of time, I think a lot of things happen that wouldn't happen if you didn't play that often,'' Auriemma said. "Nobody knows what it's like being us. Nobody knows what we go through every day, what our players go through every time they win an award, everybody gets (ticked) off.
"Worst off, they act (ticked) off because our guys won an award because it's Connecticut all the time. All Connecticut all the time. People are sick of it. It's just natural. We live with it 365 days a year. So if you're going to come in and try to live in that air, then you need to deal with it.''
Tonight, the Huskies and Notre Dame will meet in the biggest game in the history of the sport. Never before have two unbeaten teams -- men's or women's -- met in the final. Not to mention, UConn is seeking to win an NCAA-record ninth national championship, which would break a current tie with Tennessee.
Notre Dame is looking to win its second national championship.
"We're going to take a shot at them,'' Irish senior Ariel Braker said. "Why not? We're both undefeated teams. We're both really good teams. I don't think anyone's going to go in scared.''
While McGraw let loose with her pregame comments, the players echoed her sentiment regarding the rivalry but in a more subdued manner.
"I think there is an intensity factor,'' Notre Dame senior All-American Kayla McBride said. "I think a lot of people go in playing UConn and they see their jerseys and they've already lost the game. I don't think we're like that. I think we have a certain swag to us. I think we already don't like each other, so that adds to it, too.'' Read Full Article
Seven of the 11 losses, including three in overtime, suffered by UConn seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley and three of the four losses sophomore Breanna Stewart has endured have come at the hands of Notre Dame. The three losses last season were by a total of 12 points.
A win tonight would help soothe the lingering memories the Huskies have of those defeats.
"I don't know if it would erase it because we play Notre Dame again next year,'' Stewart said. "I'm still not going to like them. But I think that it'll definitely help cover it up a little bit.''
The historical significance of the game was enough to make for great theater. Add in feuding coaches and two teams that have a genuine dislike for one another, the quest for perfection has been further amped up.
"It's going to be a dogfight out there,'' UConn junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. "Both of us want to win this national championship so bad. With us beating them last year and just our history that goes so far back with Notre Dame, it's going to be brewing up in the game (tonight). I think all the players on each team are going to come out trying to smell the blood in the water and see who takes advantage of it first.''
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