- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. — The women’s basketball championship game will have a familiar feel to it with UConn and Notre Dame playing for a title for the second consecutive year.

Unlike last season’s game, when much of the conversation building up to the matchup of undefeated teams was about the frosty relationship between Geno Auriemma and Muffet McGraw, there is a friendlier attitude between the coaches and their teams despite the rivals once again meeting on the game’s biggest stage.

A win for the Huskies on Tuesday night would be a third consecutive title for UConn and 10th overall for Auriemma. That would tie him with UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden for the most championships in college basketball.

Auriemma has a perfect record with the national championship on the line, winning all nine of UConn’s trips to the title game.

“This isn’t something that’s going to last forever,” Auriemma said. “[We’re] not going to win every single championship game that we’re in if we’re in some more, but up to this point, it’s something that’s really hard to explain. And I’m just incredibly grateful.”

UConn junior Breanna Stewart has been the key two the last two titles.

The Associated Press player of the year the last two seasons saves her best games for the brightest lights. She was the Final Four’s most outstanding player as a freshman and sophomore and had another great game in the semifinal win over Maryland.

She said when she arrived at UConn that her goal was to win four championships. Only the Huskies, from 2002 through 2004, and Tennessee, from 1996 to 1998, have won three consecutive titles.

UConn beat Tennessee in 2003 and 2004 — the only other time in the history of the NCAA tournament that the same teams played in the title game in consecutive seasons.

McGraw has the Fighting Irish back in the title game for the fourth time in five seasons. She’s won only one title at Notre Dame, beating Purdue in 2001.

“I think being here is a great achievement for us,” McGraw said. “I think probably because we [won] one that maybe I don’t feel that sort of pressure [to win another]. But I want to win this for this team. I want to win for this team so that they can have that feeling looking up in the rafters and seeing another banner.”

The Fighting Irish lost two All-Americans from last season’s team and weren’t expected to make it to the title game when the season began.

“I think when we started the season and looked at what we lost last year and were wondering where all the offense is going to come from, to say that we’ve come a long way, I think it’s a little bit of an understatement,” McGraw said. “I’m just proud of where we’ve gotten to and how this team has just been resilient and continued to pursue their goals this year.”

Notre Dame needed a putback by unlikely star Madison Cable with less than 16 seconds left, and then a defensive stand, to defeat South Carolina and advance to the championship game.

The two teams met in December at Notre Dame, where the Huskies left with an 18-point victory.

Notre Dame was missing freshman Brianna Turner, who was nursing a shoulder injury. She’s made a major impact since missing those three games.

“She’s our leading rebounder and one of our top three scorers,” McGraw said. “So I think she makes a difference in our team at the defensive end, with her rebounding her presence of shot blocking and the way she can run the floor. I think that we are a much better team with her on the floor.”

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