Finally, the game everyone in NCAA Women’s basketball was waiting for is going to happen. Notre Dame and Connecticut, bitter rivals, will meet in the NCAA Women’s basketball championship game Tuesday night in Nashville. Both teams are undefeated, setting up the first ever meeting
in either a women’s or men’s final that will feature two undefeated teams. The meeting will also likely be the most hyped NCAA women’s Final Four matchup ever.
Not only are the two best teams playing, but perhaps the greatest coach NCAA women’s history, Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma is on the verge of history. If Connecticut wins Tuesday night Auriemma will surpass former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt with his ninth national championship while at UConn.
The Fighting Irish and Huskies played in the same conference for years before the dissolution of the Big East before after last season. Along the way a rivalry developed between the two national powers and their coaches. Not playing one another this season has done nothing to diminish the rivalry.
If anything the game has been enhanced by Notre Dame and Connecticut not meeting on the court this season. Which brings us back to the coaches, Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw and Connecticut’s Auriemma who apparently have a disagreement they have not been able to resolve privately but do not mind talking about publicly.
According to McGraw, Notre Dame approached Connecticut about continuing the best rivalry in NCAA Women’s basketball once the Big East dissolved and the two schools went their separate ways and was rebuffed. “We tried to work something out for this season,” McGraw said. “We wanted to play them, and they finally agreed for next season.”
Auriemma claims to know nothing about being approached by Notre Dame, “The scheduling part … Let me just say it’s not nice to fib during Lent.”
The feud has gone beyond the two coaches however as the Notre Dame women’s basketball media office released a statement back in November regarding the situation basically accusing Connecticut of lying about a possible matchup.
All acrimony aside the game does feature the two most best teams in NCAA Women’s basketball meeting again in Final Four action and several of the game’s best players, including All-Americans Kayla McBride and Jewel Loyd for Notre Dame. Connecticut is led by All-Americans Stefanie Dolsan and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis plus the NCAA Women’s basketball Player of the Year Breanna Stewart.
The game is virtually an all-star game of women’s college basketball. Yet it also is gaining notoriety for one player who will not be in the game. Natalie Achonwa of Notre Dame, another All-American tore her left ACL last the previous weekend of the NCAA tournament and is out for the game. Stewart, Mosqueda Lewis and Dolsan make up the best front court in women’s college basketball and one of the best in NCAA women’s history.
Notre Dame on the other hand boasts and outstanding back court with McBride and Loyd. Achonwa was the anchor inside for the McGraw’s team, their only real inside presence, albeit a dominating one. How the Fighting Irish handle Connecticut’s formidable trio is really the key to the game. Taking down Maryland in the Final Four semi-finals was one thing. They dominated the boards even without Achonwa, but handling the Huskies is a completely different task.
Perhaps an impossible one. Although Auriemma is not buying it. In a rare moment of modesty, the Connecticut coach said “Notre Dame is far and away the best team I have seen this year. No one else is even close.”
Other than the team he coaches every day in practice. The same team that is the No. 1 ranked team in the country entering the NCAA tournament. Connecticut has never lost an NCAA title game. They will not Tuesday night either as the loss of Achonwa will finally catch up with Notre Dame. UConn, 79-76.
Commentary by Mick Varner