NEW ORLEANS — If there’s a Women’s Final Four being played in New Orleans, apparently Connecticut has to be in it.
The event comes here for the third time this weekend, and, as was the case in 1991 and 2004, the Huskies are in the semifinals. That shouldn’t be surprising, since UConn is in a record sixth straight Final Four and its 14th overall since that first one back in ’91.
And, increasingly so, if this is the semifinals, apparently UConn and Notre Dame must be meeting.
For the third straight year, the Huskies (33-4) and the Fighting Irish (35-1) are facing each other with a spot in the national championship game on the line. Sunday’s tip-off in the New Orleans Arena is at 8 p.m., following the first semifinal between California and Louisville.
“Maybe we ought to re-seed the teams when they get to the Final Four so we wouldn’t have to play Notre Dame every year,” Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said Wednesday during a teleconference featuring the coaches of all four semifinalists.
Auriemma has good reason to want to avoid the Irish until the last possible moment.
Not only have his teams lost to their Big East rivals in the semis for the past two years, but UConn is 0-3 against Notre Dame this season, albeit by one, two and nine points in triple overtime.
But Auriemma, whose seven national championships are second only to the eight won by now-retired Tennessee coach Pat Summitt (including a victory against the Lady Vols in the 2004 title game), rejects the idea that the law of averages have to be in his favor, especially when it comes to Notre Dame trying to beat his team for a fourth time.
“I think it’s difficult; I don’t think it’s undoable,” he said. “If you can do it three times, you can do it four times. But I don’t know if what happens Sunday is going to have anything to do with the result of the previous games. If we play exceptionally well, we’re going to beat them. If they play exceptionally well, they’re going to beat us.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, whose team lost to UConn three times in 2011 before reversing things in the Final Four, pointed out that it’s always difficult to beat the Huskies once, much less four times.
“The battles we’ve had have gone back and forth and down to the wire — every one of them,” she said. “So we’ve done some really great things at the end of the games to win.
“When you look back at every game, whether it was a defensive stop or a huge basket or something good, we’ve been able to make something happen at the end. So we would certainly hope that karma continues.”
Like Auriemma, McGraw said she would have preferred to be playing UConn in the title game and was miffed because that was the case.
The NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee put the Irish and the Huskies on the same side of the bracket, seeding them second and third, behind Baylor and ahead of Stanford, both of which lost in the regional semifinals.
McGraw pointed out that Duke was considered the best of the No. 2 seeds, which should have put the Blue Devils in the same region as UConn.
However, Notre Dame and Duke both wound up in the Norfolk Regional, and the Irish had to rally from a six-point halftime deficit to beat the Devils 87-76 in the regional final.
Meanwhile, UConn which had the advantage of not having to leave its state in the first four rounds, had an 83-53 laugher against Kentucky in its regional final.
“It was interesting when the bracket came out to see that we had to play Duke, who was, I thought, the highest No. 2 seed,” McGraw said. “It works that way the rest of the way through.
“I was hoping that it would be championship meeting as opposed to the semifinals. After three years in a row, it would be nice to play somebody else.”
Especially the way the Huskies are playing.
A work in progress much of the year, UConn has gotten a boost in the tournament with the improved play of freshman Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart.
“Physically, we’re not exactly where we want to be, but we haven’t been all year,” Auriemma said. “Mentally, we’re probably in a better place right now than we have been at any time this season.”
Plus, UConn is back in familiar surroundings. Or at least Auriemma is, since none of his players have ever played in New Orleans.
“As far as the city’s concerned, I love it,” he said. “I’ve been down here a bunch of times, and I love the people.
“I certainly have enjoyed the atmosphere. And I can assure you that in 2004, after that championship game, my family really enjoyed the city.”