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Notre Dame

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Final Four
What: NCAA women’s tournament
Where: New Orleans
When: Sunday
TV: ESPN
Games: Louisville vs. California, 6:30 p.m.; Notre Dame vs. Connecticut, 9 p.m.

Muffet vs. Geno: Stakes high as paths cross again

– Muffet McGraw and Geno Auriemma have been crossing paths for a long, long time.

The stakes seem to keep rising, too.

McGraw and Auriemma, both former assistants at Saint Joseph’s, will see each other again Sunday in the NCAA semifinals. McGraw is trying to lead Notre Dame (35-1) to its second national title, and Auriemma is trying to help the Huskies (33-4) win their eighth in a rematch of what has become the biggest rivalry in the game.

“I think it is the most heated rivalry in women’s basketball and it’s a game that everybody enjoys watching, and we enjoy playing,” McGraw said.

McGraw and Auriemma have coached in all 40 games the two schools have played. Auriemma, the coach at Connecticut since 1985, has a 29-11 advantage in wins, including a 10-1 lead in Big East tournament games. But McGraw, the Notre Dame coach since 1987, holds a 3-0 advantage in NCAA tournament games – all in the national semifinals. The Irish have also beaten the Huskies four straight and in seven of the past eight games.

While the relationship between Auriemma and McGraw is cordial, they are not good friends. Both say the game Sunday is much more about the teams than the coaches.

“She doesn’t have to prove anything to me, and I don’t have to prove anything to her,” Auriemma said.

Notre Dame was 0-11 against the Huskies before the then-No. 3 Irish led by All-American center Ruth Riley upset top-ranked UConn 92-76 in a nationally televised game in January 2001, ending a 30-game winning streak by the Huskies and handing them their worst loss in more than seven years. The Irish did it again in the NCAA semifinal that year, winning 90-75 en route to the championship.

“That game certainly gave us and our program kind of a great momentum swing,” McGraw said.

The Irish went 2-4 against the Huskies over the next four seasons, before the Huskies rattled off 12 consecutive victories. The Irish finally beat UConn 72-63 two years ago in the NCAA semifinals behind the play of Skylar Diggins, keeping Maya Moore and her teammates from winning a third straight national title.

The Irish did it again last year, winning in overtime.

Both coaches admit they are tired of meeting in the semifinals, saying they would have preferred delaying the rematch until the final.

“We’ve played them three years in a row now and it would be nice to play somebody else,” McGraw said.

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