Coaches at women's NCAA Final Four have deep connections
Geno Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer and Dawn Staley have decades-long connections through women's NCAA Final Fours and Olympic gold medals.
The coaches in Dallas this week for the Final Four are hardly strangers.
''It really is an interesting dynamic,'' Auriemma said Tuesday during a national conference call. ''You really couldn't orchestrate something like that. It kind of just has to happen. It's unique. You don't see that generally anywhere, much less in a Final Four.''
Even Vic Schaefer is in the same conference with Staley, was part of a championship-winning staff that beat Stanford in the 2011 Final Four, and met with Auriemma last summer after UConn delivered an embarrassing end to Mississippi State's first NCAA Sweet 16 trip.
UConn takes a 111-game winning streak into its record 10th consecutive Final Four, and 18th overall, under Auriemma.
The Huskies play Final Four first-timer Mississippi State in the second game Friday night, a rematch of that NCAA Tournament game UConn won by 60 points last March.
VanDerveer is in her 12th Final Four with Stanford, nine coming at the same time with UConn. The Cardinal play South Carolina and Staley in the first game at the home of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.
''Dawn is extremely competitive. She's a competitive person, coach, player. She's very intelligent. She's very passionate about basketball,'' VanDerveer said. ''I see all of these things, having coached her and known her for, I guess, about 30 years.''
The first of Staley's three Olympic gold medals as a player came in 1996, when VanDerveer coached the U.S. women's national team.
Staley has two more golds as an assistant coach, including last summer with Auriemma, whom earlier this month she succeeded as head coach of the national team.
''Tara has taught me so much about the game as a player,'' Staley said. ''I still use the foundation of how I approach games from the days in which she taught me as an Olympian, the times we spent together.''
Staley played in three straight Final Fours as a player at Virginia from 1990-92, the same span when VanDerveer made her first three appearances as the Cardinal coach.
Virginia lost to eventual national champion Stanford in the 1990 and 1992 semifinal games.
In 1991, the Cavaliers won their semifinal game against UConn - Auriemma's first Final Four game as a head coach - before losing to Tennessee in the title game.
Schaefer went to Final Fours as an assistant for Gary Blair at Arkansas and Texas A&M, including the Aggies' national championship in 2011.
This is the 56-year-old Schaefer's fifth season at Mississippi State, and their third consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Lady Bulldogs beat top-seeded Baylor in the Oklahoma City Regional final, a year after that 60-point season-ending debacle against UConn.
After Schaefer had a chance meeting with Auriemma while recruiting in Colorado Springs last summer, the two were in Houston at the same time in September when they got together for dinner. The timing never worked out for Schaefer to make a trip to Connecticut.
''It was really great for me to just talk to him about, you know, the game and, in particular, offense. Again, for some reason, I've kind of been known throughout my career as the defensive guy,'' Schaefer said. ''Our conversation, more me picking his brain. ... I was pretty specific in trying to get some information out of him. He was super.''
Auriemma said the conversation was like many he has with other coaches during the offseason. He said it was enjoyable, and a learning time for him as well in sharing ideas about the different things they do.
''Believe me, I didn't give Vic anything he didn't already know,'' Auriemma said. ''It wasn't me, believe me, saying, `Hey, Vic, if you do this, this and this, next year you guys are going to be in the Final Four.' There wasn't anything like that at all. ... They're an unbelievably good team. He's done an amazing job. Believe me, I take none of the credit for that.''
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