Back in 1980, when Muffet McGraw was an assistant women's basketball coach to Jim Foster at St. Joseph's University, they used to run a play called "high play."
With a certain degree of pride, Foster noticed McGraw's second-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish still running that play during their 79-58 win over Foster's University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs on Tuesday night.
What may have made him happiest — and it was perhaps the only time he was happy all night — was the result of that play.
Asked if the Irish scored on it, Foster softly replied, "No."
To listen to him afterward might have been to believe that it was the only positive moment of the night for him, other than getting to spend some time with McGraw and her husband of 38 years, Matt, in the 24 hours or so before the game.
After all, you don't become a Hall of Fame coach — as both Foster and McGraw are — without bristling over 21-point defeats, even if the Irish were clearly the taller, stronger, quicker, more talented team.facebook
So as his postgame news conference began, and Foster was asked if he would talk about his team's toughness in bouncing back from an early 10-0 deficit to make it a fairly competitive game the rest of the way, he groused: "I'd rather talk about how we came out there timid and had veteran players do silly things."
This is how you win the 870 games Foster has over the course of his career, even if his current Mocs are a somewhat disappointing 5-8 at the moment. You don't gently accept defeats of any kind, even of those losses haven't come against cupcakes, UTC having fallen to No. 1 UConn, the No. 2 Irish, No. 8 Louisville, Florida (which was a Top 20 team when UTC played the Gators), Indiana (also ranked at the time) and Wisconsin-Green Bay, which is getting Top 25 votes.
"We've played that team seven times," Foster said in explaining the vast majority of the Mocs' defeats. "It may say 'Connecticut,' or 'Notre Dame,' or 'Louisville' on the jersey, but they all look the same. They're big and they're strong."
He also said, "We know how to play hard in the second, third and fourth quarters. (But) our minds aren't where they need to be for 40 minutes yet, which is why we're playing these folks."
Despite its 11-point loss at home to top-ranked UConn, Notre Dame plays well for four quarters, as befitting a team that has two All-America-type talents in point guard Lindsay Allen and post player Brianna Turner.
All Allen did was post a stunningly efficient triple-double in finishing with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists, which was one more than the entire UTC team.
As for Turner, she finished with 24 points, five rebounds and six blocks in just 28 minutes of court time.
"Pretty special day when you get a triple-double," McGraw said. "We didn't tell her about the triple-double, but we did tell her to start looking for her shot."
Said Allen, who didn't get her 10th and 11th points until she hit a foul-line jumper with 2:40 to go: "(When they told me to shoot) That's when I thought I could get a double-double or triple-double. It means a lot. Coach McGraw is a legendary coach."
If there is an irony here it is that Foster is a legendary friend to both McGraw and Geno Auriemma, who probably didn't exchange Christmas cards this past week.
Nevertheless, Foster is close friends with both of them. McGraw even calls him her "mentor" and says, "He's always been there for me, always been a sounding board for me."
If she asks, Foster might tell her that her current Irish team might be her best, even, quite possibly, better than her 2001 NCAA title squad.
"They've got a player who can break you down off the dribble (Allen) and a player who can dominate inside (Turner)," he said. "And they've got a play-making 4 (power forward) in (Kathryn) Westbeld, who I recruited. I really think that helps them. She's a really nice player."
Indeed, for all the good work done by Allen and Turner, Westbeld quietly accounted for eight rebounds, 11 points, four assists and two blocks, making her — if you're a fan of the Golden State Warriors — sort of the Draymond Green of the Irish women.
Yet in many ways, this wasn't so much about UTC versus ND as it was McGraw squaring off against her mentor and friend two days after Christmas in front of the 14th largest crowd ever to witness a UTC home women's game (3,388).
And as she was wrapping up her postgame remarks, someone asked her who initiates the phone calls between the two these days.
"Oh, I still call him," she said with a smile.
Perhaps their next long-distance conversation will include the mentor telling his student how to avoid having the "high play" thwarted.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
5-at-10: Weekend winners and losers, NFL power poll, True or False Tuesday and Rushmore of movie franchises