Stanford and UConn renew intense rivalry at Final Four

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Stanford and UConn have met on the biggest stage in women’s basketball many times over the past 27 years.

The rivalry between the two storied programs led by Hall of Fame coaches Geno Auriemma and Tara VanDerveer will resume Friday night in the Final Four, five years after their previous meeting. The winner advances to Sunday night’s championship game against either Louisville or South Carolina.

VanDerveer and Auriemma are 1-2 on the all-time coaching wins list in women’s basketball, combining for more than 2,300.

They have played in the Final Four or national championship game against each other five times, with UConn winning four of the meetings.

“We’ve been competing against each other for a long time, playing against each other,” VanDerveer said. “I like him and think we get along really well. I’ve never felt that we were adversaries in a negative way, but more competitors in a good way.”

The two teams met in the Final Four 27 years ago to the day in Minneapolis in 1995.

Auriemma’s Huskies came away with the 87-60 victory and went on to win their first national championship. They have won a record 10 more since then. Stanford returned to the Final Four 10 more times before winning the team’s third national championship last year.

No one on either team has played against the other in college. The two programs played at least once every year from 2007-2014 and then again in 2017. They haven’t played since.

“Always had great games with them. Some have been close and some had not been close,” Auriemma said. “I think like us they haven’t changed much over the years. They play the same style of play. when you watch them you know what you’re going to get. … It’s the same Stanford team I remember 27 years ago playing them out here. It’s just different people.”

Stanford’s Haley Jones remembers growing up and watching the Cardinal play UConn. She said she is glad to be part of the matchup.

“I think the UConn-Stanford kind of bi-coastal rivalry is a longstanding tradition,” she said. “I think each program you have Hall of Fame coaches, the two winningest coaches of all time. All these All-Americans, Olympians, WNBA players come from both these programs. So to be a part of it is huge.”

Stanford is two victories away from repeating as NCAA champion. The NCAA hasn’t had a repeat champion since UConn won four straight from 2013-16. The Huskies haven’t reached the title game since 2016, losing in heartbreaking fashion a few times since then.

HOMECOMING

UConn sophomore star Paige Bueckers grew up 10 miles from Minneapolis and will have many friends and family at the game on Friday night. She isn’t worried about it being a distraction.

“I’m obviously super grateful to be home, but it doesn’t matter the location, where it is, we’re all excited to be at the Final Four and keep playing,” she said. “I’m hoping to see a lot of Minnesota basketball fans because it’s an awesome experience and opportunity for the state.”

RECOVERING HUSKY

Dorka Juhasz had surgery on her left wrist Wednesday, two days after she had fractured it in the Huskies’ double-OT win over N.C. State in the regional final.

“She’s in that state where everything is fine, everything is happy and making nothing but happy talk,” Auriemma said. “But once it wears off this afternoon, it’s going to be a different Dorka.”

Auriemma said they are hoping to have Juhasz in Minneapolis for the game Friday. He also said she’ll return for another season next year instead of potentially turning pro.

“I always expected she was coming back. One big reason she came to UConn is to experience something like this,” he said. “It was taken away from her. I think she’s coming to hopefully be in the same situation, but actually playing instead of watching.”

STAYING OUT OF FOUL TROUBLE

One of the major keys to the game is which set of post players can stay on the court. Stanford’s Cameron Brink and UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards have had been plagued by foul trouble for the entire tournament.

“I think the only thing that can stop Cam is when she gets too aggressive and fouls, and if she can stay in the game without fouling, then there’s no stopping her,” VanDerveer said.

Nelson-Ododa knows how important it is for her and Edwards to be on the court, especially with Juhasz sidelined leaving the Huskies short in the post.

“I think that’s something Aaliyah and I have struggled with in this tournament,” Nelson-Ododa said. “We’re aggressive on the defensive end, but just knowing when to be smart about it is going to be key.”

SHE SAID IT

“I call it hot dogs for the girls and steak for the boys. It will be a great time when you don’t need Title IX, but unfortunately in our world, there’s discrimination still against people, women and we need to keep battling.” — Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.

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More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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