UConn, Notre Dame prepares to renew the bitter rivalry in the Final Four



  • Christyn Williams (13) of UConn celebrates a December 2 game at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Connecticut won 89-71. Photo: Robert Franklin / Associated Press / FR17139 AP

    Christyn Williams (13) of UConn celebrates a December 2 game at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Connecticut won 89-71.

    Christyn Williams (13) of UConn celebrates a December 2 game at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Connecticut won 89-71.


    Photo: Robert Franklin / Associated Press

  • Photo


Photo: Robert Franklin / Associated Press

Christyn Williams (13) of UConn celebrates a December 2 game at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Connecticut won 89-71.

Christyn Williams (13) of UConn celebrates a December 2 game at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Connecticut won 89-71.



Photo: Robert Franklin / Associated Press

UConn, Notre Dame prepares to renew the bitter rivalry in the Final Four


TAMPA, Florida. – During the apogee of the incomparable UConn dynasty, the games were merely procedural. It did not matter who or what the Huskies faced, they would win, and they would win in a fascinating and compelling way.

Take 2015-16, for example, when the Huskies went 38-0 and captured their eleventh and most recent national championship. Their victories were on average 39.4 points, with the closest margin of victory of 10 points (twice).

"I remember being in the Final Four many times and saying, 'If we play our game A, we can not lose no matter what the other team does,'" recalled UConn coach Geno Auriemma on Tuesday.

Surprisingly, Auriemma heads to the Final Four for the 20th record time (12th consecutive) in 34 years at UConn. Only this time, it may not be like the favorite, and perhaps rightly so.



He rushes to pbad that distinction to a rival and his superpower, the defending national champion Notre Dame (34-3). The two teams will meet on Friday (9 p.m., ESPN2) in the Final Four at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.


"I think we're playing the best team in the country," Auriemma said. "If you look at their lineup, the number of scorers they have, the experience they have, only the quality of their players, I think it's a formidable task for us and I think anyone can beat such a team."

UConn has already beaten Notre Dame once this season, on the road, nothing less. Guard Christyn Williams, the best-ranked freshman in the country, had a day to remember, adding 28 points, including 16 in the first quarter, in a resounding 89-71 victory on December 2.

But, as she prepares to face Notre Dame for the umpteenth time (UConn has a 37-12 lead), Auriemma is not taking stock of what happened four months ago. During her teleconference prior to the Final Four, Auriemma returned to the 2012-13 season, when the Huskies lost to Notre Dame twice in the regular season and in the Big East tournament final, 61-59, but recovered to beat the Irish in combat. 83-65 in the national semifinals of New Orleans. The Huskies crushed Louisville 93-60 for their first of four consecutive national titles.

"There's nothing you can think of and you leave," I think I have an idea. I think we can show you something you have not seen before. "I do not know if you can do that," Auriemma explained. "I think that at this time of year, you have to enter and overcome them." That is not easy for anyone. "


Auriemma's nemesis, the coach of Notre Dame Muffet McGraw, sees it a little differently.

"It's always good to have that base," he said. "We do not know them as well as we used to, it was good that we could play them earlier this year to see how that was going.

"Williams, that was the best game of his career, I do not think we'll find a better game in the movie to see how good he can be, I think we can get a lot out of that game."

No rivalry continues to have as much juice or as much reserve as UConn-Notre Dame, even though the two schools have played in separate conferences since the 2013-14 season.

They have met seven times in the Final Four or in the national championship since 2001. Notre Dame has won four of those matches, including a 91-89 overtime victory in the Final Four last year with an Arike Ogunbowale batter.

It was Ogunbowale, a second team of the US guard that averaged 21.5 points per game, who lost his temper at that December meeting. The hero of last year's national championship delivered not one, but two cheap shots to the UConn guard, Crystal Dangerfield, on the court and open-mouthed with Auriemma.

Now, here the Fighting Irish are again, a formidable No. 1 seed on the road to the Huskies of another national championship game.

"This is one of the moments in which if we do not play our game A, they will fly us," Auriemma said. "Even if we play our game A, we can still lose, that's how good they are."


[email protected]; @DougBonjour


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