NEW ORLEANS - Everywhere he turns, it seems, someone is throwing a rivalry at Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma. If it isn't his supposed feud with men's coach Jim Calhoun, it's his alleged dislike for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.
Auriemma got to stay even with Calhoun, who got a national title Monday night and get one step closer to Summitt as the Huskies won their third straight NCAA championship with a 70-61 victory over the Lady Vols last night at the New Orleans Arena.
If you're keeping count - and someone in Connecticut is - Auriemma earned his fifth national title, one less than Summitt, but three more than Calhoun.
Auriemma took the high road on both fronts.
"I don't know that somebody's going to say who's the best basketball program in America," Auriemma said. "Like there's room for only one. I don't buy that. I don't feel this need to be the program and everyone else is second. I'm not one of those greedy types that I want everything and I don't want you to have anything."
What Connecticut has is an unprecedented Division I double - basketball championships for both the men's and women's teams.
"We don't even understand the magnitude of our own win, let alone what both programs have accomplished in the same year," said senior guard Maria Conlon. "Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, when we settle in, we'll understand how special this is. We watched the men's game together [Monday] and we said there is no way we are going to miss the opportunity to make history."
All-America guard Diana Taurasi - who almost certainly will be the top overall pick in next week's WNBA draft - closed a stellar career with 17 points for the Huskies (31-4), and in the process was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four for the second straight year.
As the horn sounded, Taurasi, who finished her career as Connecticut's third-leading all-time scorer, punted the basketball into the crowd for emphasis.
"Where did it go?" Taurasi said. "Did it go all the way up? I don't know how you can describe the feeling. I think it's tingling. Yeah, it's tingling. You feel kind of light."
Taurasi and fellow seniors Conlon and Morgan Valley join Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw and Kellie Jolly as the only NCAA Division I women's players to win three straight titles.
Tennessee, which played in its 11th championship game last night, earned its threepeat from 1996 to 1998, but the Lady Vols haven't won since.
The Connecticut seniors, who won their first title against Oklahoma in 2002, finish their collegiate careers with a 139-8 mark in four seasons in Storrs.
"It's been amazing," Taurasi said. "Coming in as a freshman, I never expected this at all. I know I can speak for Maria and Morgan. It's been unbelievable. You just don't know what to say. Three in a row? You just don't do that. That doesn't happen to every team, to every person."
In contrast to recent games between the schools, Tennessee (31-4), which had won its three previous tournament games by two points each, gave the Huskies a fight. Ultimately, however, the Lady Vols failed under the weight of poor free-throw shooting and inopportune streaks from the field. They lost to the Huskies for the sixth straight time and the fourth time in a row in the national final.
Tennessee also let Connecticut, which was badly out-rebounded in the first half, off the hook on the glass in the second half. The Huskies had an advantage of one overall and were even on the offensive glass.
"Overall, I thought we had some good defensive stops and series, but what we saw on tape today is what we saw in the game," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "That was their offensive rebounding. The 11 put-back points were huge. And their hustle plays. I just thought they beat us to the ball a lot on our defensive end of the floor. They just pursued the ball and did a great job with their put-backs."
The Lady Vols trailed by as many as 17 in the first half, but they whittled the Connecticut lead to two off a three-pointer from Brittany Jackson with 9:51 to go. After a miss, they had a chance to tie, but a pass from Tasha Butts for Shyra Ely at the basket fluttered off Ely's hands.
The Huskies paused for poise, then Jessica Moore, who scored the first eight points of the second half for Connecticut, and Ann Strother converted layups. The two complemented Taurasi by combining for 28 points.
The Huskies then held on until reserve forward Willnett Crockett scored on a three-point play with 3:01 left to take the lead to 62-55. The Lady Vols would never get closer.
"It was really important for us to play with the lead," Auriemma said. "If we could keep it at five, six, seven, then we can change some things. So, that was a big key that they never took the lead and made us be defensive. And we were always able to be a little more pro-active, instead of reactive."
While fans in the Nutmeg State may continue the debate over which of their Huskies is the better, the debate in women's basketball circles is settled.
"Tennessee's been great for so long and as a little kid, that's the team that everyone looked at," Taurasi said. "Hopefully, now, I think we made it. I think we're the top program out there. I don't care what anyone says any more. I don't care."
Women's NCAA Championship
Pat Summitt, Tennessee, 6
Geno Auriemma, Connecticut, 5
Linda Sharp, Southern Cal, 2
Tara VanDerveer, Stanford, 2
Leon Barmore, Louisiana Tech, 1
Jody Conradt, Texas, 1
Sylvia Hatchell, North Carolina, 1
Sonja Hoag, Louisiana Tech, 1
Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame, 1
Carolyn Peck, Purdue, 1
Marsha Sharp, Texas Tech, 1
Marianne Stanley, Old Dominion, 1