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    Friday, July 19, 2024

    Finally, a healthy rivalry to embrace


    It's OK, you know. No, really. Every good story needs a villain, not a 40-point margin of victory. And now that there's apparent glasnost between UConn and Tennessee, women's basketball needs some venom. This just in: lovey dovey is a reason to change the channel.

    And so speaking globally here, Notre Dame 83, UConn 75 on Sunday night in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains wasn't so terrible. It was great, actually. A marvelously entertaining game. With an outcome that gives women's college basketball some sex appeal - meant figuratively, not literally - moving forward.

    This also just in: The game needs a little salt and pepper. It's been hospital food since UConn and Tennessee stopped playing. Maybe the diehards and purists can find suitable storylines. But the rest of the country's sports fans want drama and the good kind of hate. Sox/Yanks hate. A reason to watch.

    UConn still leads the overall series 29-8. But the Irish have won two straight against UConn at the Final Four. That counts.

    A day earlier, it was ESPN analyst Doris Burke who was talking about some of the sniping between the programs this season. "It's a sign Geno thinks Notre Dame is a real threat," she said.

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

    Amen, Doris. It was amusing during the game, for instance, to read the tweets of UConn alums. After Notre Dame's slow start, former program great and Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles tweeted, "headband coming off, no?"

    She referred to Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins' penchant to rip off her headband in times of distress. Whether Diggins is serious or playing for the cameras is known only to Diggins. But it produces the desired effect.

    After the game, a writer asked three Notre Dame players on the podium whether this win was sweeter because the victim was Connecticut.

    Here is how it went:

    Brittany Mallory: "Yeah."

    Diggins: "Yes."

    Deveraux Peters: "Yes."

    Mallory: "It's great getting to the championship game and it's the exact thing that happened last year. But we've had a battle with them all year. … It couldn't be a better way to go to the championship.

    Peters: "I know basketball fans all around the country were foaming at the mouth seeing this and when it went into overtime, you could see even the Stanford-Baylor crowd got into it. But this is great. Yes, it's that much sweeter because it's UConn."

    Even better, this is an emerging storyline. ESPN will love it: Can UConn get some revenge on Diggins' watch?

    Auriemma and McGraw said all the right things this weekend when asked about the subtle undercurrent of disapproval between the programs. Just know that it exists, well beyond all the nice words for the cameras.

    My two cents: UConn perceives Diggins as a bit of a diva and McGraw as a pouter when she loses. OK, so it's not Auburn/Alabama football. But it's a start.

    Plus, there's so much about each program that contributes to the distaste. If you are a Notre Dame fan, for instance, you can detest Auriemma's brashness and a sense of humor that is an acquired taste.

    If you're a UConn fan, you can wrinkle your nose at McGraw's husband, who showed up at the postgame press conference Sunday night wearing a big, green hat. Or the fight song that's played more times than "Law & Order" reruns. Or how there was some priest on the court hugging everyone Sunday night. Or how the school's failure to share its football money has turned the Big East into a helicopter drop of schools across the country.


    The larger point: There's enough fodder for animosity. There wouldn't be as much had UConn won Sunday night.

    UConn fans should be proud of their team this season. The Huskies were touchdowns and touchdowns better than most of the teams they played. But not better than Notre Dame. They got to the Final Four, which is better than the alternative. And now they have a summer to burn over an agonizing loss.

    Every other championship team here has suffered before it has won. There's no need to hold a telethon. UConn returns next year as one the game's Gatsbys. Only with a budding rival they'll love to hate. Beautiful.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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