For Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, it was making the national tournament while playing for St. Joseph's. For South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, it was perfecting a difficult bank shot near 23d and Diamond Streets near her North Philadelphia home. For Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, the Philly experience was a little murkier to recall.

Regardless, three of the most accomplished people in women's college basketball history began their legendary basketball careers in the Philadelphia area. On Sunday at the Final Four in Tampa, Fla., the trio will vie for the game's highest stakes.

"It is [special]," McGraw said Wednesday at a teleconference. "We were thinking maybe a cheesesteak for the winner."

McGraw, who has led the Fighting Irish to a fifth consecutive Final Four, will face Staley, who has led the Gamecocks to their first appearance.

Auriemma, who slammed the men's game during the call and called its offense largely "a joke," will lead his team in an eighth consecutive Final Four when the Huskies play Maryland.

In 33 seasons at Notre Dame, McGraw won a national title in 2001, coached in the title game four times and is the school's winningest basketball coach.

Staley, a Murrell Dobbins Tech product, led Virginia to three Final Four appearances, starred in the WNBA and is enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Before all that, the former Temple coach was simply tough to beat in H-O-R-S-E. "I'm most proud of being able to cut out the bottom of a milk crate, nail it to a piece of wood and put it on an electrical pole," she said, laughing.

Auriemma, a nine-time national champion with 15 Final Fours and five perfect seasons, had trouble recalling any exploits growing up in Norristown.

"Well, that's probably one of the reasons I had to leave," he said, laughing. "I didn't have many accomplishments while I was down there."

Auriemma causes stir

Responding to a reporter's question, Auriemma said the men's game is not as much fun. He conceded its popularity before ripping its poor offensive output.

"Obviously it's immensely popular," he said. ". . . Having said that, I think the game is a joke. It really is. I don't coach it, I don't play it, so I don't understand all the ins and outs of it, but as a spectator . . . watching it, it's a joke.

"There's only like 10 teams in the top 25 that actually play the kind of game of basketball that you'd like to watch. . . . And the bottom line is, nobody can score. And they'll tell you, 'Well, it's because of great defense, great scouting, a lot of film work.' Nonsense. Nonsense. College men's basketball is so far behind the times it's unbelievable. I mean, women's basketball is behind the times. Men's basketball is even further behind the times.

"Every other major sport in the world, has taken steps to help people be better on the offensive end of the floor. They moved in the fences in baseball. They lowered the mound. They made the strike zone so that you need a straw to go through it. In the NFL, you touch a guy and it's a penalty. You hit the quarterback, you're out for life.

"People have to decide, do I want to pay $25, $30 to see a college scrum where everybody misses six out of every 10 shots that they take?"

cartera@phillynews.com

@AceCarterINQ