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Kevin Duffy: Auriemma, UConn women in class by themselves

Updated 1:10 am, Wednesday, April 9, 2014

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  • Connecticut center Stefanie Dolson (31) celebrates her basket against Notre Dame during the second half of the championship game in the Final Four of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Tuesday, April 8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Photo: AP
    Connecticut center Stefanie Dolson (31) celebrates her basket against Notre Dame during the second half of the championship game in the Final Four of the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Tuesday, April 8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Photo: AP

 

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Perhaps greatness isn't the correct word. Maybe hatred isn't either.

Because greatness doesn't do justice to what we've seen in Storrs this season.

And can it truly be hatred if Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw shook hands, smiled and laughed a little bit before one unbeaten team annihilated the other?

Well, let's revisit recent events. You decide. How often does a coach refuse to applaud for a rival's individual award (especially when that individual may go down as the best individual in her sport)?

How often does a coach publicly say, "We've gotten pretty good at beating them"?

How often has a coach been given every opportunity to make nice (or at least indifferent), only to confirm that, yeah, hatred's probably the right word?

"I think that is a fair assumption," McGraw said Monday.

And how often did UConn score in the paint Tuesday night?

Often enough to deliver a 79-58 victory over an undefeated team, just an outlandish accomplishment itself. Enough to deliver Auriemma his ninth national title, surpassing Pat Summitt, launching him into an unprecedented realm of greatness. Enough to propel this team, these 40-0 Huskies, into a similar domain.

McGraw's Irish were competitive for 20 minutes, helpless for the next 20. Oh, make no mistake, she hated this. I think that's a fair assumption.

In a cordial post-game handshake, McGraw told Auriemma, "I thought we were playing the Miami Heat for a while."

His team up 21 as the countdown to perfection ticked, Auriemma pleaded, "C'mon, dig in, dig in!" Soon after, he pulled Bria Hartley; the senior guard sobbed wildly as she shared a long embrace with her coach. Moriah Jefferson smiled wide as she hugged assistant Marissa Moseley. So did Stefanie Dolson, who exited with 17 points and 16 boards, and Breanna Stewart, who had 21 points, nine rebounds and another Final Four Most Outstanding Player award.

For Auriemma, that's nine titles in the past 20 seasons. That's him becoming the most successful coach in the history of women's basketball.

And his Huskies? 40-0, not one game decided by single-digits, not a chance for 37-0 Notre Dame. If this isn't the best women's basketball team ever, cases can be made for precious few others.

"We beat a great, great team tonight," Auriemma said. "We played better than I thought we were going to play."

It's a shame Natalie Achonwa spent this Tuesday night on the Notre Dame bench with a black brace strapped around her left knee. Maybe she could have momentarily slowed Dolson and Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who accounted for the bulk of UConn's astounding 52 points in the paint. She couldn't have reversed the outcome, though.

No fibbing during Lent: "They just overpowered us," McGraw said. "They killed us inside."

When it was close in the first half, you could still tell which side felt the pressure. After an early unforced turnover, Kayla McBride retrieved the ball from out of bounds and pounded it twice into the ground with full force. Even a perfect team knew it had to play a perfect game against these Huskies. Now that's a different type of greatness.

What seemed inevitable since last April, when the world caught a glimpse of Stewart's limitless ceiling, eventually commenced. Auriemma got No. 9 three hours west of good ole Knoxville, Tenn. He got it against McGraw and the Irish.

"I don't think it really matters where you win it, who you're playing against," Auriemma was saying Monday. "Anytime you win a national championship, it's pretty special. When Pat won No. 8, there may have been a perception out there nobody's ever going to catch Pat."

"So if Connecticut or anybody else were to win eight or nine, somebody's going to come around someday and win 10," Auriemma continued. "I'm really not a numbers guy. I've said this 100,000 times. Wednesday morning when I wake up, win or lose, my life doesn't change one iota."

For the numbers guys and gals, the significance of this is clear-cut: Auriemma has won nine championships in the past 20 years. Pat Summitt's eight rings spanned over 23 seasons. Case closed, as far as I'm concerned.

But the conversation will surely involve all coaches, pitting Auriemma against John Wooden and others from the men's game. It's a fun debate. It's interesting. It will ultimately go nowhere.

The men's college game and the women's game are different animals. There's crazy parity on the recruiting trail in men's hoops. Lower-ranked guys can develop into legitimate stars. Remember the No. 98 ranked recruit in the class of 2010? Yeah, he just had his jersey placed on the Huskies of Honor wall Tuesday. In women's hoops, it seems the brightest collegiate stars are almost always the top recruits.

The men's game provides the early-defection element, too, which is why Mike Krzyzewski doesn't have a prayer of catching Auriemma's title count. And John Calipari gets Anthony Davis for one season; Auriemma gets Stewart for four. The conversation ends there.

For Auriemma, always asked about the numbers, the conversation always comes back to his players. How many do they leave UConn with?

"Now, Stewie said she came to Connecticut to win four national championships," Auriemma said Monday. "That's what I think is more significant for Bria and Stefanie Dolson, to win a National Championship their senior year. That's pretty significant, because they only get X amount of chances to do it."

So X = two more for Breanna Stewart.

How much do you think Muffet McGraw hates that?

kduffy@newstimes.com; @KevinRDuffy