COLUMBUS, Ohio — It wasn’t long ago when Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw were constantly on each other’s minds.

That’s what happens when you coach two of the nation’s best teams and play in the same conference. UConn and Notre Dame often played four times a season, heightening the intensity of one of the best rivalries in women’s college basketball.

Now, with the two powerhouse programs in different conferences, the intensity has diminished. They play only once during the regular season, with a second meeting usually coming on the grand stage of the Final Four.

“The neat thing about it is after every game in December, now I will say to her all the time, ‘I’ll see you in March. If I see you in March it will be in the Final Four, so that’s cool,” Auriemma said.

The unbeaten Huskies and Irish play Friday night in the national semifinals. The winner will face Louisville or Mississippi State for the title Sunday night.

There was a stretch between 2010 and 2013 when the two squads played 15 times. The Irish won seven times, twice knocking UConn out of the Final Four.


“I think now we only play them once a year, there is some distance to the rivalry,” McGraw said. “I think that it always, of course, will be a rivalry just because they’re the best team in the country right now. But I think it’s not that intensity that we had when we were in the Big East because you’re constantly watching in your conference.

“Now we’re in the ACC, and we’re focused on that, and that’s the best conference in women’s basketball. We can’t really afford to be watching a lot of other teams. We really focused on that.

“So I think it definitely has lessened the intensity of the rivalry, but that could change tomorrow.”

In the 2013 title game, with both teams unbeaten, the Huskies beat the Irish. UConn has won the five meetings since, including an 80-71 victory on Dec. 3 this season. Notre Dame led by double digits in the fourth quarter before the Huskies rallied despite two ailing All-Americans – Gabby Williams sat out the second half because of a migraine, and Katie Lou Samuelson reinjured her foot in the fourth quarter.

“I think we could take a lot from that,” McGraw said. “Where we went wrong, where we went right. I think we changed some things since then.”

While the Huskies are Final Four fixtures, the Irish are back in the national semifinals for the first time since 2015. This might have been one of McGraw’s best coaching jobs, having to overcome knee ligament injuries to four players during the season.


“It’s one of the most rewarding since ’97 when we were a six seed and it was completely unexpected,” McGraw said. “Definitely been one where we worked hard for it.”

McGraw was chosen as The Associated Press coach of the year for the fourth time, receiving 10 votes from a 32-member national media panel.

Mississippi State Coach Vic Schaefer also garnered 10 votes, with McGraw winning a runoff.

McGraw also won the award in 2001, 2013 and 2014 and has the second most all-time behind Auriemma’s nine since it was first given out in 1995.

A’ja Wilson of South Carolina received the player of the year, getting 22 of 32 votes. Wilson helped the Gamecocks to their first NCAA title last year and averaged 22.6 points and 11.8 rebounds this season.



AP AWARDS: Villanova guard Jalen Brunson is The Associated Press player of the year.

The 6-3 junior earned 36 of 65 votes from AP Top 25 writers, with ballots submitted before the start of the NCAA tournament.

Oklahoma freshman Trae Young was second with 15 votes after leading the country in scoring and assists.

Brunson is averaging 19.2 points and shooting nearly 53 percent entering Saturday’s national semifinal against Kansas. He’s the first Villanova player to win the award.

Virginia’s Tony Bennett was the runaway winner as coach of the year, getting 50 of 65 votes.

The Cavaliers set a program record for wins, dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference and reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time since the Ralph Sampson era. But the season ended with the Cavaliers falling to UMBC to become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed in NCAA tournament history.


Bennett also won the award in 2007 when he was at Washington State.

FINAL FOUR: A wave of positionless basketball has swept the nation. Coaches have loaded rosters with smaller, athletic players who shoot 3-pointers and beat defenders off the dribble. Three, sometimes four-guard lineups have become the norm, free-flowing the way to go.

This year’s Final Four teams certainly fit the mold. These final four also have something else in common: Skilled big men who keep defenses honest, grab rebounds and protect the rim with all those smaller guys out there.

Villanova has Omari Spellman, Kansas has Udoka Azubuike. Moe Wagner is Michigan’s man in the middle, and burly freshman Cameron Krutwig anchors the paint for Loyola-Chicago.

Those four are a big reason their teams are in San Antonio this weekend.

“Big guys are going to be really valuable if they’re really skilled,” Villanova Coach Jay Wright said. “Everybody can get the positionless thing, but the guys who have positionless with the big guy, that’s going to be the best team.”


“There’s so many playmakers who can get in the lane and so many big guys now who are able to stretch out and hit the 3,” Villanova guard Jalen Brunson said. “It’s just playing off each other. We have the ability to do that. Everything is unique. You have big guys who are able to make plays for themselves and others as well. I just like how complete we are.”

SYRACUSE: Five-star recruit Darius Bazley, a 6-foot-9 forward from Cincinnati, said on social media that he’s changed his mind about college and will head to the NBA G League.

INDIANA: Daryl Thomas a starter on the 1987 NCAA championship team, died at age 52.

Thomas had been the basketball coach at Montini Catholic High School in suburban Chicago since 2015. The school said Thomas died Wednesday from a heart attack.

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