TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The women's basketball championship game will have a familiar feel to it with UConn and Notre Dame playing for a title for the second straight year.
Unlike last season's game when much of the conversation building up to the matchup of undefeated teams was about the frosty relationship between Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw. This year there is much friendlier attitude between the coaches and their teams, despite the rivals once again meeting on the game's biggest stage.
A win for the Huskies on Tuesday night would be a third straight title for UConn and 10th overall for Auriemma. That would tie him with UCLA men's coach John Wooden for the most all-time in college basketball.
Auriemma has a perfect record with the title on the line, winning all nine of UConn's trips to the national championship.
"This isn't something that's going to last forever," he said. "Not going to win every single championship game that we're in. If we're in some more, but up to this point, it's something that's really hard to explain. And I'm just incredibly grateful."
UConn junior Breanna Stewart has been the key two the last two titles.
The two-time AP Player of the Year saves her best games for the brightest lights. She has won outstanding player of the Final Four as a freshman and sophomore and had another great game in the semifinal win over Maryland.
She stated when she came to UConn that her goal was to win four championships. She's one victory away from being three-quarters of the way there. Only the Huskies from 2002-04 and Tennessee from 1996-98 have won three straight titles.
UConn beat Tennessee in 2003 and 2004 which was the only other time in the history of the NCAA Tournament that there was a repeat title game.
McGraw has her team back in the title game for the fourth time in five seasons. Unlike Auriemma, she's only won one title with the Irish back in 2001.
"I think being here is a great achievement for us," McGraw said. "I think probably because we did one that maybe I don't feel that sort of pressure (to win another). But I want to win this for this team. I want to win for this team so that they can have that feeling looking up in the rafters and seeing another banner."
The Irish lost two All-Americans from last season's team and weren't expected to make it to the title game when the season began.
"I think when we started the season and looked at what we lost last year and were wondering where all the offense is going to come from, to say that we've come a long way, I think it's a little bit of an understatement," McGraw said. "I'm just proud of where we've gotten to and how this team has just been resilient and continued to pursue their goals this year."
Notre Dame needed a putback by unlikely star Madison Cable with 16 seconds left and a defensive stand on the other to even advance to the championship game and face UConn.
Unlike last season when these two women's basketball powerhouses didn't play until the championship game which UConn won by 21 points, they met in December in South Bend, Indiana. The Huskies came away with an 18-point victory in that game.
Notre Dame was missing freshman Brianna Turner, who was nursing a shoulder injury. She's made a major impact since missing those three games.
"She's our leading rebounder and one of our top three scorers," McGraw said. "So I think she makes a difference in our team at the defensive end, with her rebounding her presence of shot blocking and the way she can run the floor. I think that we are a much better team with her on the floor."
Threepeat! UConn Tops Notre Dame for Third Straight National Championship!
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