Throughout the past decade, UConn and Notre Dame battled for supremacy in the women’s basketball world. In seven of the last ten years, the two teams met in the Final Four. The Fighting Irish had a 5-1 advantage in the national semifinal but the Huskies couldn’t be stopped in the title game, winning back-to-back championships over Notre Dame in 2014 and 2015.
It was the rivalry that defined the sport after UConn-Tennessee folded up, one that involved its share of off-court animosity and flair to go with the on-court battles. The Huskies’ 81-57 win over a rebuilding Fighting Irish squad this past season seemed to be temporary lull in the usually-heated matchup. Instead, it proved to be a disappointing final chapter.
On Wednesday, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw shocked the basketball world by announcing her retirement. She simply decided she was ready to move on. Notre Dame has its work cut out to maintain the caliber of this rivalry.
UConn-Notre Dame will remain a fixture on the schedule for the next four years, but it won’t be the same. Like with Tennessee and Pat Summitt, the dynamic between Geno Auriemma and McGraw contributed to the rivalry as much as the basketball did. There was a clear respect for each other and their respective programs, but they weren’t exactly best friends. Neither were afraid to take shots at each other through the media.
Instead, this season’s game was likely a preview of what’s to come in the series: UConn blowouts. The Irish wrapped up their worst season in the last 25 years with a 13-18 record — which included getting bounced by 4-25 Pitt team in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
Climbing out of a hole that big would’ve been tough, even with McGraw. It’s possible they would’ve never returned to their former glory even if she stayed. Notre Dame doesn’t have a single 2020 recruit in the top 20 and only earned two postseason honors with a pair of players on the All-Freshman Team. That’s not exactly a solid foundation to build a national title contender off of.
New head coach Niele Ivey is in the unenviable position of replacing a legendary head coach — which rarely goes well — in addition to rebuilding a program with the stature and expectations of Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish were already looking at a long road back to being a top-10 team. Now, it’s fair to wonder if they’ll ever return to the heights they reached with McGraw at the helm.
Geno and Stewie
Shortly before the WNBA Draft kicked off last week, Auriemma and Breanna Stewart jumped on Instagram Live. The two talked for an hour about a lot of topics, but the highlight of the chat came when Stewart was asked which championship was her favorite. Hilarity ensued.
Here’s a transcript of what happened, edited for clarity:
Stewie: The third one (2014-15) was the hardest one because it was like ‘If I don’t get this one, I can’t get the next one.’
Geno: Is that when both us and Notre Dame were undefeated?
BS: No. We lost to Stanford that year.
GA: Oh wait, is that the year we played Louisville in the final? We played Louisville in the finals, right?
BS: No. We played Louisville in the finals my freshman year.
GA: Oh that’s right because they beat Baylor. That’s right. Who’d we play your sophomore year in the finals? Did we play Notre Dame twice in the finals? And then your senior year we played Syracuse right?
BS: Syracuse! Who’d we play my junior year? I can’t remember. Come on fans, who’d we play?
GA: Notre Dame, yeah. Notre Dame. I think it was. I think it was Notre Dame.
It’s tough not being able to keep your national championships straight. Alternatively, here’s the conversation in gif format:
Another #UConnGIF for your viewing pleasure pic.twitter.com/lXf0iZPfJy— UConnGIFs (@UConnGIFs) October 11, 2019
Another former Husky joins the Liberty
After selecting Megan Walker ninth overall in the WNBA Draft, the New York Liberty are adding another former Husky to their ranks. The team announced Kelly (Schumaker) Raimon as a new assistant coach, where she’ll work with Walker along with Kia Nurse and Kiah Stokes.
Raimon played for UConn from 1997-2001, finishing her career with an average of 5.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 13.9 minutes per game over her career while winning the 2000 national championship with the Huskies. In that game, Raimon set a NCAA title game record with nine blocked shots — which also tied the program record at the time.
Previously, she spent two years as an assistant with the Las Vegas Aces. A first round pick of the Indiana Fever in 2011, Raimon played nine years in the WNBA with five different teams. She is one of two former Huskies to win back-to-back titles in the W (the other being Jen Rizzotti), taking home the trophy with the Phoenix Mercury in 2007 and the Detroit Shock in 2008.
Raimon is one of two former Huskies coaching in the WNBA along with Asjha Jones (Washington Mystics).
2021 rankings updated
After ESPN updated its rankings for the 2020 recruiting class last week, it brought the 2021 class up to date recently.
For UConn’s commits, there wasn’t much movement. Caroline Ducharme, the Huskies’ newest commit, move up to No. 37 from No. 41. Other than than, Amari DeBerry (No. 5) and Saylor Poffenbarger (No. 17) stayed where they already were.
News from the week
Megan Walker selected No. 9 overall by New York Liberty
Crystal Dangerfield selected 16th overall by Minnesota Lynx
Megan Walker’s dreams come true on draft night
How do Megan Walker and Crystal Dangerfield fit on their new teams?
Renee Montgomery’s post-draft interview with Crystal Dangerfield (Video)
That’s What She Said with Sarah Spain: Swin Cash talks her all-time UConn starting five, the WNBA’s evolution and her work in the Pelicans’ front office. (Podcast)
Family Business: Samuelson sisters ready to take off in Dallas (Slam Online)