HARTFORD, Conn. - With UConn set to face Notre Dame once again in the NCAA Tournament Final Four, coaches Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw are at it again.
The latest scrap in a decades-long rivalry surrounded the hiring of assistant coaches. After McGraw told ThinkProgress that she didn't plan to hire men to work on her staff, Auriemma questioned the wisdom of that approach and wondered why McGraw had felt the need to speak publicly about it.
"Muffet is entitled to hire anybody she wants," Auriemma said. "I don't know why she feels the need to make a statement about it. I've never hired a guy as one of my assistants either. I'm not going to make a statement about it."
In a vacuum, that comment might not have meant much. But given Auriemma and McGraw's testy history, it seemed to enforce that these two coaches don't much like each other.
"We don't have a relationship," McGraw said in 2014, just before UConn and Notre Dame met in that year's national title game. "I think that got lost. When we were in the same conference, I think there was a modicum of it, but I think after beating them and not feeling any respect from that, we lost something."
Ahead of the 50th career matchup between the two coaches, here is a history of the simmering tension between Auriemma's program and McGraw's.
January 1996-March 2011 - From Philly friends to Big East foes
McGraw and Auriemma both grew up in Pennsylvania (Norristown for Geno, Pottsville for Muffet) and coached at Philadelphia-area high schools in the late 1970s. They just missed each other as assistants at St. Joseph but met through Hawks coach Jim Foster.
Auriemma took over at UConn in 1985, and McGraw landed at Notre Dame two years later, but the schools didn't face off until the Fighting Irish joined the Big East in 1995-96, by which point the Huskies were defending national champions. The early years of the UConn-Notre Dame rivalry were fairly one-sided with Auriemma's team winning 28 of the first 32 matchups over 16 seasons.
One of McGraw's victories, however, was a big one. The coach led the Fighting Irish over the Huskies in the 2001 Final Four, foreshadowing years of future battles.
April 2011-April 2013 - Revenge of the Irish
For several years, during Skylar Diggins' Notre Dame career, Auriemma could not get past McGraw.
Notre Dame beat UConn in the national semifinal in 2011 (avenging three losses earlier that year), then twice more the following regular season. The Huskies stopped the Irish in the 2012 Big East Tournament, but when the Final Four rolled back around, Diggins and company won again, this time in overtime. The Irish won both regular-season contests in 2013 as well as the Big East Tournament final.
By the spring of 2013, Notre Dame had beaten UConn in seven of the teams' past eight matchups, and tension between Auriemma and McGraw appeared to be on the rise. Auriemma seemed to guarantee victory over Notre Dame before the Big East title game, then again when the teams were set to meet in a third straight Final Four. After Diggins said she had a "distaste" for UConn, Geno stepped up the trash talk.
"If I was her, I would feel the same way," he said. "We have seven national championships, they have one. We have 18 Big East (tournament) championships, they have none. If I was her, I'd be upset, too. I think she is telling the truth."
At the time, McGraw declined to engage publicly, saying she generally ignored Auriemma's comments. Then UConn beat Notre Dame in the semifinal, ending the Fighting Irish's four-game win streak in the rivalry. By the following year, the gloves were off.
March 2014 - Fibbing during Lent
The break-up of the Big East in 2013 left UConn and Notre Dame in different leagues, meaning they would continue to face each other only if their respective coaches reached an agreement to play non-conference games. When that failed to happen in 2014, McGraw blamed UConn, suggesting Auriemma had declined to schedule the Fighting Irish.
Auriemma shot back that, "It's not nice for Muffet to fib during Lent."
McGraw then had Notre Dame's athletic department release a statement that called the idea that Notre Dame would avoid UConn, "completely false, extremely disappointing and, frankly, baffling."
As UConn and Notre Dame prepared to face each other in the national title game, both coaches acknowledged some hard feelings, though Auriemma said sometimes that comes with the territory.
"I could sit here and list 10,000 coaches that don't interact with each other whose rivalries are intense," Auriemma said. "Sometimes we act like girls, like we're supposed to go to dinner every night. We're supposed to play each other, try to beat each other's brains in, try to win a national championship and compete like hell, Muffet and Geno. And then we're supposed to get together afterwards and go have a bottle of wine? That s--- is just not going to happen."
UConn beat Notre Dame in that season's title game as well as the next season's, capping a stretch of five straight years that the teams met in the Final Four.
March 2018 - Ogunbowale sinks the Huskies
On the eve of UConn and Notre Dame's match-up in the national semifinal last year, McGraw said enmity between the two programs wasn't quite as strong as it had once been, given that they no longer shared a conference.
Then again, she said, "that could change tomorrow."
Change it did. Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale sunk the Huskies with a last-second step-back jump shot, injecting new energy into the rivalry.
December 2018 - Stewart blocked, Dangerfield tripped
After No. 2 UConn beat No. 1 Notre Dame this past December, former Huskies All-American Breanna Stewart tweeted something curious: McGraw had blocked her on Twitter.
The block heard 'round the college basketball world followed a tense game in which Ogunbowale earned a technical foul for her exchange with Auriemma and also tripped UConn's Crystal Dangerfield to the ground.
McGraw and Ogunbowale apologized to their fans - but not to UConn.
April 2019 - Another Final Four, renewed barbs
For the seventh time in nine years, UConn and Notre Dame will meet in the Final Four, and either Auriemma or McGraw will emerge with a trip to the national title game and another round of bragging rights.
Given the coaches' history, it was no shock this week when a reporter asked Auriemma about a hot topic in women's hoops, McGraw's comments on not hiring men, and little surprise that Auriemma responded with snark.
"I hope she sends a thank you to all those guys that used to be on her staff that got her all those good players that won a championship," Auriemma said. "I look at some of the top programs in America, and they seem to have pretty good coaches who happen to be men."
Even before that barb from Geno (which McGraw let pass without response), the coaches' relationship had been a subject of conversation surrounding the Final Four, particularly in the wake of the incident between Auriemma and Ogunbowale earlier this season.
As personal as the rivalry often seems, Geno insists it's all in the game.
"I don't think anybody owes anybody an apology for anything," he said. "I'm going to do what I'm going to do. If you don't like it, that's your problem."
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