Unbeaten women's title game matchup is first of its kind

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Muffet McGraw and Geno Auriemma were well aware of the talk. There has been a buzz throughout women's basketball this season about the potential showdown between their undefeated teams. Well, the wait is over.

Connecticut (39-0) and Notre Dame (37-0) will meet tonight at Bridgestone Arena in an unprecedented championship.

"I think it's something that everyone's looked forward to all year long," McGraw said. "People were hoping we would end up here. It's great for the game, and I think it's great we're both undefeated coming into it. It should be a great matchup for women's basketball."

Auriemma agreed that this once in a lifetime matchup -- the first time undefeated basketball teams, men or women, have met for the NCAA national crown -- could help grow the women's game.

"An awful lot of people might tune in [tonight] that wouldn't normally tune in," he said. "A game on national television between two great teams, nothing could be better for the sport."

There's also so much at stake for both teams.

A victory by the Huskies would result in a record ninth national championship for Auriemma, breaking a tie with former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. And if he does it, he'll accomplish it in Summitt's backyard.

"I'm not a numbers guy and don't get caught up in that stuff," Auriemma said. "Wednesday morning, when I wake up, my life doesn't change one iota. Stewie [Breanna Stewart] says she came to win four national championships, that's what I think is more significant. For Bria [Hartley] and Stef [Dolson] to win a national championship their senior years. They get 'X' amount of chances to do it. God willing, I'll get more chances down the road."

While Auriemma deflected the talk about a record title, Dolson is happy to be a part of it.

"It's amazing," this 6-foot-5 Connecticut center said. "I mean, obviously it's something Coach isn't going to talk about. We don't really talk about as a team, it's just something that we know that we have the chance help him kind of win that ninth one. ... But if it happens, for all of us, now we have two of the nine. You know we have, like I was talking about that small piece of history. It's just something we have a chance to kind of add to the legacy of UConn and add to Coach's legacy. I think that's something he would be extremely proud of."

It would also be the fifth unbeaten season for Auriemma and the Huskies and the first time the Huskies went 40-0. They would match Baylor as the only team to accomplish that feat.

Notre Dame is not concerned about Connecticut's achievements. The Irish are looking for their first title since 2001 -- the school's only championship.

They have made the Final Four the past four seasons, including reaching the title game three of those years. This year, they are hoping for a breakthrough.

"Getting here consistently has been great for our program," McGraw said. "Taking the next step would be a huge accomplishment."

Notre Dame has owned the series lately, winning seven of the past nine games between the schools. The Irish players have a simple explanation why they've had success against the Huskies.

"We're not afraid of them," Irish sophomore star Jewell Loyd said. "You know a lot of people, like Kayla [McBride] was saying, they look at the jersey and they're just like, 'Oh my gosh!' Obviously, UConn is a great program. They've done a lot of things that other programs haven't done.

"But [when] we go in there we have that swagger, that chip on our shoulder that we're coming in to battle."

These former Big East Conference schools have a mutual respect for each other, but that's about where it ends.

There is no love lost between the programs -- not even with the coaches.

"We don't have a relationship," McGraw said. "I think that [the civility] 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."

McGraw said it would be difficult for the civility to return.

Auriemma believes it's only natural for the teams be testy having played so many times lately. Before the Irish bolted for a new conference, the teams had met 12 times over the past three seasons

"Once you play each other two, three, four times a year, it gets pretty intense for lots of reasons," Auriemma said.

"It's only natural. It will probably die down now that we're not in same conference and we play each other once a year, maybe two.

"What was happening before wasn't realistic, that's not normal. It's not healthy."

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