UConn Win Sets Up Notre Dame Rematch - NBC Connecticut
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UConn Win Sets Up Notre Dame Rematch

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The two teams that handed the Huskies back-to-back home losses for the first time since 1993 also happen to be the two teams UConn will face in consecutive games in the Big East Tournament.

    On Monday, Geno Auriemma's bunch dispatched St. John's, 74-43, setting up a matchup against regular-season conference champs, Notre Dame, who have beaten the Huskies three straight times dating back to last year's Final Four.

    After struggling with consistency from one week to the next, UConn now appears to be coming together, which could be bad news for the Fighting Irish. 

    "It's been a while since we've had an opportunity to be the team that we think we are," Auriemma said. "We'll know more after tomorrow night. We're playing one of the top two teams in the country tomorrow night. I think the challenge ahead of us is much greater than last night or tonight."

    Now it's on to the finals where the the Huskies will face the Fighting Irish on Tuesday night for the conference title. Auriemma was asked if these matchups now constitute a rivalry.

    “I think every rivalry, when it truly becomes a rivalry, gets an edge,” he said. “How can it not? If you put yourself in (Notre Dame's) position … we lead (the series) 28-7. That’s not much of a rivalry. A rivalry is like, 18-18, or something like that, or 20-16. So it’s not much of a rivalry, yet."

    We're guessing those comments make their way to the Fighting Irish's bulletin board -- not that they need extra motivation.

    Then again, maybe that's the point; Auriemma wants to see where his team is at and what better time to do it than against one of the best outfits in the country. It'll be one last test before the NCAAs. Whatever the thinking, Auriemma admits that the games have become much more competitive in recent years.

    “But, of late, it’s become a great rivalry. If you were (Notre Dame), you’d say, 'It’s about time we stuck it to Connecticut,' and there’s a little bit of swagger to you. ‘Yeah, we’ve been waiting a long time for this.’

    “On our end, it’s like, 'All right, we’re going to have to respond to this.' Of course, it’s going to be edgy. But if it’s not edgy, it’s not a rivalry. So I kind of like it, as long as it stays civil.”

    And while the Huskies have played well recently, Notre Dame has been solid for virtually the entire season, including their semifinal win over West Virginia.

    “I think we’re in a great place,” Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw said after the Irish beat the 25th-ranked Mountaineers, 73-45, on Monday night. “We really wanted to play West Virginia, so we got that. Now, we have a chance to win a championship. (Connecticut) is a team playing great right now. They look really sharp against St. John’s. I think it’ll be a great game.”

    As for UConn, Auriemma said he's more concerned that his team returns to its dominant form than win another championship. "Regaining the identity we lost is more important to me than winning another trophy," he said.

    Of course, finding its identity will almost certainly lead to another trophy, something Auriemma knows full well.