UConn gets one last chance to beat Irish
New Orleans - Geno Auriemma sat in a room with Kelly Faris and ESPN personalities earlier this week, offering his perception of why the score is Notre Dame 3, UConn 0 this season.
"We don't have anybody here who is tough enough," Auriemma said.
A referee would have scored that a direct hit, based on ESPN's Rebecca Lobo, who said, "If you could have seen the look on Kelly's face … "
Auriemma was doing what he does best - agitate and instigate - in the hope of finding the recipe that unites the blow torch with the gasoline can, the explosion that finally gets the Huskies past the Irish.
UConn gets chance No. 4 this season tonight at New Orleans Arena at the Final Four. The opening tip is likely around 9 p.m., 30 minutes after the conclusion of the opener between Louisville and California.
The Huskies, who have lost four straight and seven of eight to the rival that has replaced Tennessee, are officially tired of listening to narratives about how Notre Dame "has their number" and how Notre Dame "is in their head."
And there is one way to silence the skeptics: win the game.
"Coach knows exactly what he's doing," Faris said of Auriemma's comments. "Everything he does and says is for a reason. I'm not saying you can't let it get to you. If I hear something like that, it's 'forget that, I want to show you we are tough enough to do it.' I'm not going to sit there like 'I agree.' It makes you want to prove him wrong."
He might be wrong this way: Whether UConn's ultimate weakness against Notre Dame has been toughness or smarts is open to debate. What's not, however, is the scorecard. Happily, though, there is another chance - the most significant chance - tonight.
"This 40 minutes matters the most," Notre Dame junior Kayla McBride said, "out of any other game this year."
Ironically, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw wasn't asked a single question about McBride on the podium at Saturday's news conference. McBride has been Notre Dame's best player in all three games, scoring 21, 26 and 23 points. Her 3-pointer in the closing seconds in South Bend forced overtime in a game UConn came within an eyelash of winning.
"I definitely have confidence in our team to get a stop," Faris said. "McBride is a good player. She's made really tough shots when they counted. But do I believe we can stop them? Yes."
Except that they haven't yet. McBride and backcourt mate Skylar Diggins have made every big play.
"More physical, more edgy," ESPN's Doris Burke said.
Lobo said, "To me, Skylar Diggins is the best point guard I've seen since Sue Bird at making her teammates better. She makes the right pass, runs the right thing at the right time. It's in subtleties. The little things. It doesn't always have to be fancy. She wins and she makes them win."
She's never made them win a national championship game, however. Diggins and the Irish have the same motivation as the Huskies at this Final Four: Win the game that has eluded them.
"When we come into this game, I don't feel like we're the underdogs," Diggins said. "I still feel like Connecticut is America's team and (fans) are going to cheer for them whether we beat them 20 times in a row."
Later, when Diggins was asked what player on UConn's team she'd like to have on Notre Dame, she replied, "nobody."
That's the attitude she gives the Irish. And what the Huskies must combat in the renewal of the rivalry that tonight is the biggest game of all.