Published March 23. 2014 4:00AM
Storrs - It was an innocent question, if there is such a thing when Geno Auriemma is on his game, something about UConn being such a prohibitive favorite in the NCAA tournament.
"I thought Notre Dame was," Auriemma said with a wry grin, drawing a few giggles in the gallery.
And so it begins. Two weeks of anticipation wrapped in animosity. He said. She said. All leading to the national championship game between two undefeated programs that really can't stand each other.
OK. So presuming it's UConn-Notre Dame for the whole Heineken truck assumes facts not yet in evidence. But what, we can't salivate about the entrée if this is the appetizer?
Auriemma's crack was in response to Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw's musings the other night during the Selection Show on ESPN. In order, McGraw said:
"We were disappointed they couldn't fit us into their schedule this year."
"We've gotten pretty good at beating them."
"Kayla McBride is the best player in the country."
"Michaela Mabrey is the best sixth man in the country."
"When you grow up in Philadelphia," Auriemma said in response Saturday at Gampel Pavilion, "you tend to exaggerate. I know that first hand. Trust me."
"Everybody should talk very, very highly about their team and their accomplishments," he said. "I bet if you asked Tara VanDerveer who's the best player in the country, she'd say Chiney (Ogwumike). If you asked Kim Mulkey, she'd say Odyssey Sims. I think if you say anything other than that, you're not going to be very popular in your own locker room."
Happily, he wasn't done.
"As for the scheduling part?" Auriemma said, "Let me just say it's not nice to fib during lent."
This is going to be fun for the two weeks. Both coaches will lament how there's much work to be done between now and Nashville, remind us all of how Louisville beat Baylor last year … and then jab, jab, jab when the opportunity presents itself.
It will make for great viewing, great reading and perhaps give the game its best feud since the old UConn-Tennessee days. And maybe better.
Here's why: Nobody hated Tennessee outside of Connecticut. How could you really hate Pat Summitt, who is one of the transcendent figures of the game? Notre Dame is much easier to despise. The casual fan may tune in just to root against Notre Dame because it's something of a pastime. Like you root against the Yankees or the Cowboys. Just because.
And UConn? Even Auriemma admitted Saturday the Huskies are either America's Team or the villains. You might tune in just to see who can beat them. Or because you want to see the cocksure coach humbled. Bottom line, though: great theater. And women's basketball needs theater.
Maybe someone could alert the NCAA that theater is good. Theater sells. Theater generates interest. This is mentioned because the NCAA would rather such questions of McGraw or Auriemma not get asked.
I asked Auriemma to respond to McGraw's comments Saturday.
I was reminded of the NCAA's edict that "all questions must relate to the just completed or upcoming game."
Add the NCAA to the growing list of entities that believes it can manipulate the ideals our framers held dear.
Dear NCAA: Do you think you'll make more money off women's basketball if McGraw and Auriemma snipe at each other or if we break down the vagaries of this pulsating UConn-Prairie View game?
No, really. If there's one NCAA official - or even a lackey - who can answer that question, perhaps he or she could step to the podium. (Just make sure his or her beverage is in an official NCAA cup).
Notre Dame-UConn isn't a good rivalry. It's a great one. The biggest brand in college sports vs. the biggest brand in women's basketball. It's our good fortune they can't stand each other. McGraw's implication that UConn ducked them this season is just delicious. The last time Auriemma offered a "no comment" was never.
So let's go, calendar.
Get us to Nashville.
The villains vs. the villains.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.