For rivalry's sake, we need the leprachaun

It has become impossible for a women's basketball game to be a simple game anymore. You know. Like Saturday at Gampel Pavilion. Three months before the Final Four, good midseason test.

Except that everything now must be "good for the game" or "bad for the game," part of an ongoing referendum.

Two weeks ago, UConn dusted erstwhile No. 1 Stanford and was too good for everybody else. (Bad for the game. Too boring).

A week later, the Huskies are Notre Dame's patsy and not tough enough. (Good for the game. Adds intrigue).

Happily, however, there is salvation amid the blather. And it's nothing more complicated than the most basic tenet of sports: the best teams, regardless of conference affiliation, should play each other. Rivalries produce drama, interest and conversation.

It's the best way for the women's game - and any game - to grow.

This is why UConn and Notre Dame need to continue their series next year and beyond.

Yes, the Irish are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Yes, virtually all of UConn's future opponents are unclear.

No, that shouldn't mean the series is done.

"I would love to continue the rivalry," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said after Saturday's game. "I know the ACC has already approached us about continuing the game. We've reached out to Connecticut and it doesn't look like we're going to be able to do it in the next two years, according to them."

McGraw's missive was news to UConn coach Geno Auriemma. After Saturday's formal news conference, Auriemma talked for a while in a hallway at Gampel Pavilion, having no recollection of any conversation with Notre Dame that indicated the series would go on hiatus.

Auriemma certainly sounded as though he'd like to keep playing.

And when, exactly, has UConn ducked anyone, ever?

Before the game, he said this: "I don't know where it stands in terms of priority. But I am sure there will be many discussions with ND about how we move forward. So much will depend on what the Big East looks like, what the eventually timetable is. I don't when that will happen. But I am sure there will be a lot of conversation once the dust all settles."

Auriemma knows better than anyone else why playing Notre Dame is beneficial. The Irish are one of the handful of teams in the women's game than can expose UConn's warts. Auriemma was a fascinating study after Saturday's game. Here was a Hall of Fame coach discussing various strategies for the rest of the season, his mind ping-ponging, his disappointment unable to shroud his excitement for what lies beyond.

That doesn't happen after playing Seton Hall. (No offense to our new BFF around here Anne Donovan).

Plus, playing Notre Dame gets the juices redistributed. There's just so much pretentiousness in the house. It's wonderful theater.

The rivalry will get better, too. They'll meet again in Indiana to end the regular season. They'll probably meet in the Big East championship game and maybe again at the Final Four. It'll give the Huskies a chance to address whether they're tough enough.

Or whether McGraw has surpassed Auriemma as the best coach in women's basketball.

(Don't laugh. Some of UConn's fans have discussed this very possibility on the Internet).

Now a more cynical fellow might ask if this is the same McGraw who has that sterling 9-29 record against Auriemma.

But then, that would be missing the point.

The point is that Notre Dame-UConn gets people talking. The nation's top program against the nation's most famous school. And if UConn-Tennessee never materializes or never becomes a great rivalry again, Notre Dame is the next best thing.

So let's ditch all the he-saids and she-saids. All the posturing. Let's get this done. It's a fun game between two programs whose festering dislike for one another is getting more delicious by the game.

ESPN analyst Doris Burke was talking about some of the sniping between the programs at last year's Final Four.

"I think it's great. I hope it gets nasty," Burke said. "A little animosity is fabulous."

It sure is.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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