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Notre Dame, UConn set for historic title game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Muffet McGraw and Geno Auriemma were well aware of the talk. There has been a buzz throughout women's basketball all season about the potential showdown between their undefeated teams.

Well, the wait is over.

UConn (39-0) and Notre Dame (37-0) are set to meet in an unprecedented championship clash Tuesday night.

"I think it's something that everyone's looked forward to all year long," McGraw said. "People were hoping we would end up here. It's great for the game and I think it's great we're both undefeated coming into it. It should be a great matchup for women's basketball."

Auriemma agreed that this once in a lifetime matchup - the first time undefeated basketball teams, men or women, have met for the NCAA national crown - could help grow the women's game.

"An awful lot of people might tune in Tuesday night that wouldn't normally tune in," he said. "A game on national television between two great teams, nothing could be better for the sport."

There's also so much at stake for both teams.

A victory by UConn over its rival would be the ninth of Geno Auriemma's career breaking a tie with Pat Summitt for the most all-time. And if he does it, he'll accomplish it in Summitt's backyard.

"I'm not a numbers guy and don't get caught up in that stuff," Auriemma said. "Wednesday morning when I wake up, my life doesn't change one iota. Stewie (Breanna Stewart) says she came to win four national championships, that's what I think is more significant. For Bria (Hartley) and Stef (Dolson) to win a national championship their senior years. They get `X' amount of chances to do it. God willing, I'll get more chances down the road."

While Auriemma deflected the talk on a record title, Dolson is happy to be a part of it.

"It's amazing," the 6-foot-5 Connecticut center said. "I mean, obviously it's something coach isn't going to talk about. We don't really talk about as a team, it's just something that we know that we have the chance help him kind of win that ninth one. ... But if it happens, for all of us, now we have two of the nine. You know we have, like I was talking about that small piece of history. It's just something we have a chance to kind of add to the legacy of UConn and add to coach's legacy. I think that's something he would be extremely proud of."

It would also be the fifth unbeaten season for Auriemma and UConn and the first time the Huskies went 40-0. They'd match Baylor as the only team to accomplish that feat.

Also if the Connecticut men's team can pull off a victory Monday night in its title game it would be the second time in a decade that both UConn programs were national champions.

Notre Dame isn't concerned about UConn's program. The Irish are looking for their first since 2001 - the school's only championship.

They have made the Final Four the past four seasons, including reaching the title game in three of those years. This year they hope for a breakthrough.

"Getting here consistently has been great for our program," McGraw said. "Taking the next step would be a huge accomplishment."

Notre Dame has owned the series lately, winning seven of the last nine meetings between the schools. The Irish players have a simple explanation why they've had success against the Huskies.

"We're not afraid of them," Irish sophomore star Jewell Loyd said. "You know a lot of people, like Kayla (McBride) was saying, they look at the jersey and they're just like, `Oh my gosh!' Obviously, UConn is a great program they've done a lot of things that other programs haven't done. But we go in there we have that swagger that chip on our shoulder that we're coming in to battle."

The former Big East schools have a mutual respect for each other, but that's about where it ends.

There's no love lost between the programs - not even with the coaches.

"We don't have a relationship," McGraw said. "I think that (the civility) got lost. When we were in the same conference, I think there was a modicum of it but I think after beating them and not feeling any respect from that, we lost something."

McGraw said it would be difficult for the civility to return.

Auriemma believes it's only natural for the teams be testy having played so many times lately. Before the Irish bolted for the new conference, the teams had met 12 times over the past three seasons.

"Once you play each other two, three, four times a year it gets pretty intense for lots of reasons," Auriemma said. "It's only natural. It will probably die down now that we're not in same conference and we play each other once a year, maybe two. What was happening before wasn't realistic, that's not normal. It's not healthy."

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Logano holds on for Sprint Cup win in Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Joey Logano made a last-lap pass of Jeff Gordon during extra laps after a late caution Monday in a rain-delayed race at Texas, becoming the seventh different winner in as many Sprint Cup races this season,

Logano had a 2.2-second lead on teammate Brad Keselowski and was within a half-lap of taking the white flag, which would have guaranteed no extra laps. But then came the caution for debris after Kurt Busch's car brushed the wall and one of his tires tore apart.

On the ensuing pit stop, Gordon took only two tires and exited first. Both Team Penske drivers took four tires, but Keselowski missed a chance to become the season's first two-time winner when he was penalized for speeding on pit road.

UConn, Notre Dame advance to historic title game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Women's basketball came away a winner Sunday night. After a season-long buildup, the NCAA tournament will be decided by the perfect championship game.

The undefeated titans of the sport this season will meet Tuesday night in an historic championship game when UConn plays Notre Dame. It will mark the first time in NCAA basketball history that unbeaten teams will play for a title when the former Big East rivals face each other.

"It is pretty amazing," Irish coach Muffet McGraw told The Associated Press after her team beat Maryland 87-61. "So many of the media and fans have been looking at this all season long. It's great that we've made it this far.

"Both of us remaining undefeated. See who the best team is."

Said UConn guard From Moriah Jefferson: "Now we can finally talk about it. That has been the talk of this whole tournament and I guess it is finally here."

The teams didn't play during the regular season this year for the first time since 1995 as Notre Dame moved to the ACC. That helped set up the championship showdown that will put the sport in the spotlight.

"It looked to me like as the season went on it almost looked like it was inevitable to happen," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "It was supposed to happen. Our sport doesn't have enough significant moments. ... To have the spotlight on Tuesday on two teams that one is going to lose for the first time this year, it's pretty remarkable when you think how hard it's to do for one team much less two."

Notre Dame (37-0) is one of the rare teams that has had success against the Huskies in recent history, winning seven of the past nine meetings, including beating UConn twice in the national semifinals. McGraw drew attention to that fact during the tournament selection show.

The Huskies (39-0) won the last one though, topping Notre Dame in the Final Four last season en route to the school's eighth national championship. A UConn victory Tuesday night will be a record ninth for Auriemma, breaking a tie with Pat Summitt for most all-time in the women's game. It will also cap the fifth perfect season for the Huskies and make them only the second team ever to go 40-0, joining Baylor which did it two seasons ago.

Auriemma has never lost a championship game.

Notre Dame will be trying for its second national championship. The Irish have had chances lately to win their first title since 2001, advancing to the national semifinals in four straight seasons. They lost in the championship game twice during that span.

They advanced to Tuesday night's game with a convincing 87-61 victory over Maryland behind 28 points from senior All-American Kayla McBride.

Notre Dame played without senior Natalie Achonwa, who suffered a torn ACL in the regional final victory over Baylor.

Even without their star forward, the Irish dominated the Terrapins on the boards, outrebounding them in record fashion. Notre Dame had a 50-21 rebounding advantage, including a 19-4 mark on the offensive end. It was the widest rebounding margin ever in a Final Four game, shattering the previous mark of 19 set by Louisiana Tech in 1989. Maryland broke the national semifinals record for fewest rebounds in a game of 25 set by Minnesota in 2004.

They'll need a similar effort against UConn and its imposing front line of Breanna Stewart and Stefanie Dolson.

The Huskies got off to a sluggish start against Stanford before taking control in the second half in a 75-56 victory. They probably can't afford the same thing to happen for a fourth straight game if they hope to win that record title.

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