It took 20 minutes, but once the Huskies found their footing, they rolled the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite 8 Tuesday night. And for their troubles they get to face … Notre Dame. Again. It'll be the fourth matchup between the teams this season, and dating back to last year's Final Four, the Fighting Irish are 3-1. UConn's lone win came earlier this month in the the Big East Tournament Championship game.
So what does this mean for coach Geno Auriemma?
“What can you say, other than its great for the Big East to have two of its teams in this position,” he said Wednesday according to the Hartford Courant. “You would love to say you would see someone different. You would love to say you want to see somebody different, but reality they are just really, really good.”
Notre Dame's recent success against the Huskies must keep Auriemma up at night. And the thought of losing back-to-back Final Four games to the Irish is reason enough to really put his team through the paces this week. (If Tiffany Hayes and Caroline Doty thought practice was bad leading up to the Kentucky game, God help them now.)
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw appeared to be reading from Auriemma's talking points when discussing the matchup.
“It’s great for the conference to know we have two Final Four teams again in the conference,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “It’s a shame that we continue to play each in the Final Four. You look forward to getting out of conference when you get there, but we’re just thrilled to be playing in the Final Four with such great company as Connecticut.”
Auriemma has downplayed the rivalry between these two teams because UConn has been so dominant for so long. But the reality is that this is a rivalry as evidenced by Notre Dame's recent success.
“It’s good for the sport to new rivalries born,” said former UConn guard Kalana Greene who now plays for the Connecticut Sun. “It used to be us against Tennessee and then that died out. Now it’s UConn-Stanford, which is still going strong."
“I’m guessing this game is going to be just as exciting as the first three. But I will tell you, there is a level of dislike mixed in with the respect we had for each other. When UConn players come into the program, they can’t stand Notre Dame. I didn’t like Notre Dame."
“But how can you not respect the progress they’ve made over the years? They may not be one of the most talented teams, but they are one of the most hard-working teams you’ll see in the nation. You always have to respect a team like that.”
And no matter what Auriemma says publicly, he respects the Irish. He'd be foolish not to. Whether the Huskies will be able to beat Notre Dame for the second time this season … well, we'll just have to wait and see.