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Good friends face off in today's final

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- If Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma and Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale ever want to find new careers, they might try stand-up comedy.

Saturday afternoon's news conferences could have been dubbed the Geno and Sherri Hour.

Auriemma and Coale's friendship began six years ago when he recruited one of her high school players and has grown over the years. Last summer they coached together in the Junior World Championship Games.

Tonight they face each other for a national championship.

"We had a connection," Coale said. "We developed a friendship, and we laugh a lot and we poke fun at each other and I think we both respect one another. And to be competing in this game and in this situation against him is surreal."

Both showed their humor with good-natured jabs at each other.

Told some media has targeted the game because of the attractiveness of its coaches and players, Coale responded: "First of all, he's getting kind of old, don't you think?"

Later, when Auriemma was told Coale was concerned about not getting as much national attention as Connecticut and Tennessee, Auriemma said: "They will get on national television more often and they will get more media coverage. Sherri is just in a hurry. Tell her to cool her jets a little bit. Six years ago she was hoping somebody would do a car wash so she would have enough money to go on her next road trip."

THREE CHEERS FOR WARM WEATHER: The warm weather might have played a factor in Rosalind Ross' big-time performance for Oklahoma in Friday night's national semifinals.

For those suffering a severe knee injury who live and play in areas with a cold climate, a trip to San Antonio, where the weather has been in the high 70s and low 80s this week, is the perfect antidote.

"I like this weather," Ross said. "It's good to be somewhere where my knees can feel warm and just feel comfortable. San Antonio is great so far."

Ross has a torn ACL, a torn PCL and a torn meniscus in her right leg, but she scored a career-high 26 against Duke.

"I think I have one good ligament I was saving that's holding my knee together," Ross said.

"She's a medical miracle," Coale said.

GRACIOUS IN DEFEAT: The sometimes rocky relationship between Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and Auriemma took an interesting turn after UConn's 79-56 win Friday night.

The two said before the game they aren't close friends but said they have a healthy respect for each other as coaches and competitors. But as they met at midcourt to shake hands after the game, Summitt embraced Auriemma and spent about 30 seconds talking to him.

"What she said to me after the game is going to stay between the two of us, but it says a lot about the character Pat Summitt has," Auriemma said.

Summitt also stunned the Huskies by visiting the UConn locker room after the game, telling the team how good it is and encouraging the Huskies to beat Oklahoma.

SOMETHING MUST GIVE: Oklahoma and Connecticut have won every time they have led at halftime.

BIRD HONORED: UConn's Sue Bird won the Inaugural Senior CLASS Award, presented by the Kansas City Club, recognizing an outstanding senior who chose to stay in school. CLASS stands for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School. With five assists Friday night, Bird broke Jennifer Rizzotti's Connecticut single-season assist record with 327.

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