There is little question at this point that the UConn-Notre Dame series has evolved into the premier rivalry in the nation. They will meet for the 13th time since Jan. 16, 2010 tonight at Purcell Pavilion.
The fact that the Irish have enjoyed so much success recently against the Huskies has only intensified this rivalry. Notre Dame has won five of the last six meetings, including wins in the NCAA national semifinals in each of the past two seasons.
“The rivalry that exists between us now, Notre Dame and us, is a true rivalry because we’ve played them a lot in short period of time, which is good,’’ UConn Geno Auriemma said. “The games have been all meaningful, which is good. And except for last year’s final regular season game at our place (a 72-59 loss), every game has come down to who makes a play late in the game the last minute. Every game. And that’s what makes it I think a great rivalry.’’
UConn had won 12 straight games and 28 of the first 32 games in the series before this recent run by the Irish.
“It’s very difficult,’’ Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said referring to the recent success against UConn. “I think going into our games, generally they’ve been the favorite I would say most of the time. And it’s always difficult to beat the No. 1 team in the country no matter where you’re playing them, whether you’re playing them at home or on the road. They’ve been the best team in the Big East since we’ve been in the Big East. Connecticut has always been the team that we’ve looked at as the measuring stick in the conference, and everyone in the country I think looks at Connecticut that way. I think it’s a challenge that we’ve embraced, and I think because of that it’s become the best rivalry in women’s basketball.’’
It has been All-American guard Skylar Diggins that has been the difference-maker for Notre Dame over the last six games. She is averaging 20.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.0 steals against UConn in this span.
Diggins made two game-winning free throws with 49.4 seconds left in Notre Dame’s 73-72 win at Gampel Pavilion Jan. 5.
“I think a big part of it is Skylar, but I also think confidence comes from having done it,’’ McGraw said. “I think we look at the game and know we can win because we’ve done it before now. In the past, you could believe it and think you could win, but until you have actually won it’s hard. Skylar brought the confidence and in turn the success fed on itself. Kayla McBride had a great game the last time we played (21 points). Just knowing we have won is a big boost of confidence.”
McGraw now has nine wins over Auriemma since 2000-01. That is the most by any other coach on the country. But Auriemma does not want to hear that McGraw now has his number.
“She doesn’t have my number,’’ Auriemma said. “This isn’t about my number or her number because that would mean that Muffet’s not very bright. Because it took 30 losses to get my number, and I know Muffet’s a lot smarter than that. So I don’t think it’s like me against Muffet. I think what we had … When we had Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi and Rita Williams and Renee Montgomery I had everybody’s number. And now that Notre Dame has Skylar Diggins, who might be the best point guard in the country, they have everybody’s number. It’s funny how the phone numbers are attached to really good point guards.’’