Auriemma, Coale reunite in Final Four

Updated: April 2, 2009, 1:51 PM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- After her second interview for the job of Oklahoma head coach, Sherri Coale -- then a teacher at Norman High School -- was asked if she even wanted to know how much she'd be making.

[+] EnlargeSherri Coale
AP Photo/Wade BarkerSherri Coale has coached Oklahoma to its second Final Four appearance.

"Sure," was her response.

When she found out $80,000 -- nearly three times her teaching salary -- Coale freaked out.

"I remember shutting the door and … I couldn't remember where I parked my car. I couldn't remember how to get out of the stadium," Coale said.

"So, I found my way to my car, I'm driving home and I walk in the door and I go, `We're making $80,000!' to my husband. It was more than together we were making as high-school teachers and coaches. It was like we had just won the lottery."

And it might have never happened if not for Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma.

Long before he was coaching another UConn run at perfection, Auriemma stopped by Coale's gym for a fateful recruiting visit that had repercussions on this year's Final Four.

As Coale remembers it, Auriemma asked if she knew how good she was at what she was doing. To which she responded: "Shut up. You want Stacy Hansmeyer to be on your team. I know how this game is played."

But when Auriemma insisted it wasn't just a ploy, it stuck with Coale -- even a decade and a half later when she and Auriemma will be coaching in separate national semifinals Sunday in St. Louis.

"That gave me confidence in that I felt like I knew what I was doing there, but I didn't know it could apply everywhere else," Coale said.

Coale's Sooners will open their second Final Four appearance, and their first since losing to Connecticut in the 2002 championship game, against newcomer Louisville (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET Sunday). Just after that, Auriemma's Huskies face Stanford (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET Sunday) -- their nemesis in last year's Final Four and the last team to beat UConn (37-0).

Auriemma recalls Hansmeyer, who would eventually play for the Huskies, being remarkably well drilled on the fundamentals as a result of Coale's precisely planned practices.

"Sometimes you go to high school practice and it's like recess," Auriemma said Wednesday. "I was struck by how organized, how thorough. Every little detail was worked on. Time was used up to the second. There was no wasted minute the whole time I was there."

Auriemma said all Coale had to do after becoming the Sooners coach "was just be herself and do the same things she was doing in high school."

Of course, getting her first national title -- something All-America center Courtney Paris guaranteed last month -- could mean getting past the man who helped inspire her to get into the Division I game and then thwarted her back in 2002.

The Sooners also lost 106-78 on Connecticut's home floor in November.

"There wasn't really anything that they didn't do well. They were almost flawless that night in Storrs," Coale said. "I've seen them be human a little bit since then, but never for 40 minutes."

For the rematch to happen, though, both teams have hurdles to clear first.

Louisville will be playing in the first Final Four in the program's history, led by All-American Angel McCoughtry -- who finished the regular season at the top of the Big East's scoring, rebounding and steals charts for the second straight season.

"To watch our kids cut the nets down after the regional final game and see the screams of joy and the tears of joy and just the hugs was an unbelievable feeling for me," Cardinals coach Jeff Walz said.

"We work hard here, we push these kids. I think we're probably the only team in this Final Four that doesn't have a high-school All-American on the roster. … Our motto is, `We might not be the most talented team on the floor, but we've got to outwork somebody.'"

Stanford, which lost to Tennessee in last year's national title game, made it this far on the strength of Jayne Appel's 46-point performance against Iowa State in the regional finals -- the third-most points ever scored in an NCAA women's tournament game.

"It never gets old," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, who has made it to the Final Four six other times and won two national titles. "It's very exciting. Our team is absolutely thrilled. A lot of the players had a chance last year, and it was such an exciting time and so much fun that I think they really inspired the younger players to work extra hard and we want to go back."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press