It is, as they say, go time. The Huskies are coming off their latest blowout win, a 85-51 effort against USF, which sets up a regular-season finale against conference rival Notre Dame. There's more on the line than bragging rights between the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the country. It's also an opportunity for UConn to share the Big East title with the team that has had their number in recent years.
The Fighting Irish defeated the then-top-ranked Huskies earlier this season, and UConn's last two Final Four appearances have ended in defeat at the hands of Notre Dame. All told, the Huskies are 1-5 in their last six get-togethers. And that history goes a long way in explaining the confidence the Fighting Irish have ahead of the latest matchup.
“We don’t have to say we think we can win. We know we can because we’ve done it,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said according to the Associated Press.
“We don’t want to share (the title),” Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride added.
Coach Geno Auriemma understands that UConn's task won't be easy.
"Anytime you play an opponent that is capable of beating you as many times as Notre Dame has, it certainly changes the game a little," he said via the Hartford Courant. "It impacts the coaching staff, the players. "You start to look at everything through a different lens."
That said, Auriemma isn't preemptively waving the white flag.
"People say she has my number. Well, it took 28 losses [from 1996-2011] for her to get it, and she's lot smarter than that," the coach said. "It's not me against Muffet. What the world doesn't want to believe is, when I had Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Rita Williams and Renee Montgomery, [UConn] had everyone's number. She [McGraw] has Skylar Diggins now, who may be the best point guard in the country. They have everyone's number now."
And Diggins is playing some of the best basketball of her career.
“Knowing that you’re a senior and knowing your career is coming to an end is motivation,” McGraw said via The Observer's Samantha Zuba. “[Diggins] is playing with a heightened sense of urgency, and she’s playing some of her best basketball.”
UConn senior Kelly Faris is an Indiana native whose midwestern sensibilities break down the matchup to its core elements:
“We have good players, they have good players,” she said. “We have Xs and Os, they have Xs and Os. It’s not going to necessarily come down to that. It’s going to come down to the hustle plays and we go through that every year. We say that every time, and in the end it does.”