Muffet, Geno relationship more like cold war

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sticks and stones, baby.

They’re just words, but the sniping between Muffet and Geno is getting downright catty.

Is this the appropriate build-up for the most significant game in women’s college basketball history? It has disintegrated into a verbal brawl between a couple of south Philly street toughs.

As if the battle for perfection between Notre Dame and Connecticut wasn’t enough to keep Music City hopping Monday, the public bickering between coaches Muffet McGraw and Geno Auriemma couldn’t be overlooked.

Two lightning rods for scrutiny deflected attention from personnel matchups and strategy and captivated center stage like a couple of pro wrestlers hyping a bout.

“I could sit here and list 10,000 coaches that don’t interact with each other, whose rivalries are intense,” Auriemma said. “This is a function of women’s basketball. Sometimes we act like girls; like we’re supposed to go to dinner every night. We’re supposed to try to beat each other’s brains in, win a national championship, compete like hell — Muffet and Geno — then we’re supposed to get together afterward for a bottle of wine.

“That (crap’s) not going to happen. Stop asking us why it doesn’t happen.”

Oh, but Geno, if we stop asking, we’ll miss that insight. Blame it on a healthy dose of estrogen, right?

While we’re at it, why not take off the gloves and start using the given names? Muffet is an alias for Ann, and Geno’s birth name is Luigi.

Neither has the panache of their stage monikers.

Of course, Muffet didn’t do anything to simmer the bubbling cauldron. When told Geno was complimentary and respectful to the Irish after Sunday night’s win over Stanford, McGraw said, “That’s a first.”

Auriemma couldn’t resist a couple digs at the university.

“I don’t think (all the talk) means anything at all,” Auriemma said. “This isn’t Muhammad Ali taunting Joe Frazier. That’s not what this is all about. Deep down, that’s not who Muffet is. That’s not who I am. You don’t sit up here and taunt each other because you’re try-ing to get under each other’s skin. I don’t think that’s any part of it.

“It’s superfluous. See, we use big words at Connecticut, too.”

And then there was ...

“When we recruit somebody — it always comes down to us, Stanford and Notre Dame — the refrain we always hear is, ‘How can you pass up a world-class education to go to UConn?’” Auriemma said. “I just kinda like to laugh about it.

“Last time I checked our library, we have lots of books. And they’re all pretty good, too.”

McGraw was asked what it would take to bring civility back to the rivalry.

“I think we’re past that point,” she said.

She was very calculated in her answers. McGraw measured her words carefully, much more than when she’s on the local stage.

“It’s a lack of respect,” McGraw said of the reason for her disdain. “It’s the intensity of the game. It’s the bragging rights that go along with the wins. It’s a lot of those things.”

Just to send a shot across the bow that might be heard by Tuesday night’s referees, McGraw questioned the stat that the Huskies have been called for just 12 fouls a game this season.

Not to be outdone, Geno had a retort.

“The only thing more amazing than how we’ve committed so few fouls, is how many free throws (Notre Dame has) shot against us in the last three years (192-of-253 in 12 games),” Auriemma said. “Only one team in America gets to shoot free throws against us. You want to call that amazing? That’s amazing.”

After 12 games in the last three years, Notre Dame and UConn haven’t played this season until Tuesday night. Once the Irish bolted to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Huskies were left to wallow in the American Athletic Conference, scheduling became an is-sue. Did familiarity breed contempt? Absence, certainly, hasn’t made the heart grow fonder.

“This year we were able to get away from each other,” McGraw said. “There wasn’t the constant harping from them. I didn’t hear a lot about what (Auriemma) said. I usually try to ignore it anyway.”

“When you play as often as we have in a short period of time, a lot of things happen that wouldn’t happen if we didn’t play so often,” Auriemma said. “(The media always want) to know what it’s like being us. Nobody knows what it’s like being us. Nobody knows what we go through every day; what our players go through. Every time we win an award, everybody’s (ticked) off. The worst part is they act (ticked) off because one of our guys won an award.

“All Connecticut, all the time; all Connecticut. all the time. Yeah, people are sick of it. It’s just natural.

“I haven’t changed in 25-30 years. Nothing about me has changed. We think we’re the best basketball program in America. We don’t flaunt it. We don’t go around talking about it all the time.

“I haven’t changed. But a funny thing happens to people once they start beating us. Everything changes. That’s just the world we live in.

“I don’t put much stock into what anybody says. I’m at an age now (60), that if it’s not happening inside the lines, I don’t care.”

Sure, Geno. Whatever.

Just play the game.

Al Lesar: 574-235-6318

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw chats with UConn coach Geno Auriemma before a 2012 game in South Bend. (SBT File Photo)