Jim Souhan
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When Minnesotans hear the phrase "Philly Tough,'' they may assume it refers to Eagles fans throwing full beers at the heads of Vikings fans before an NFC title game.

Dawn Staley and Geno Auriemma are, this weekend, providing a reminder of the term's more endearing meaning.

Their teams will meet in the women's national championship game on Sunday night at Target Center. To them, "Philly Tough'' is an homage to a place, an ethic, and a heritage.

Staley was a Philly version of Paige Bueckers, as the national player of the year as a senior at Murrell Dobbins Tech in Philadelphia. She began her head coaching career at Temple, a former Philadelphia basketball mecca, before deciding she would have a better chance at national titles at South Carolina.

Her Gamecocks will try for their second championship at 7 p.m., Sunday against UConn and Auriemma, in a matchup that may feel as familiar to them as a neighborhood card game.

“Philadelphians, they cheer their champions better than anybody, and they boo their champions better than anybody.”
Geno Auriemma

Auriemma's family emigrated from Italy to the Philly area when he was a child. His first college coaching job was as an assistant at St. Joseph's in the city, and for years he and his wife kept their house in South New Jersey to be near his parents, who lived in Philadelphia.

Staley and Auriemma could spend hours arguing over the city's best cheesesteak.

"I think it's great,'' Staley said. "Philly produces a lot of great talent — players, coaches. And I think the reason for that is because sports is a lifestyle in Philadelphia. We live and we die off of the highs and lows of the Sixers, the Flyers, the Eagles, the Phillies. And because we put our sports teams under the gun so much, we know that we ourselves will be under the gun. So we just prep well.

"We also have tough skin, to be able to handle whatever is thrown at us. I'm not surprised to be sharing a space with Geno and Cheryl. They are from our area, and we've been raised the right way and with the right pedigree when it comes to being super competitive and finding ways to be successful.''

"Cheryl'' is Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, who is from South Jersey, near Philadelphia, and is succeeding Auriemma and Staley as the U.S. Olympic head coach. Auriemma had Staley and Reeve as assistants on Team USA, and Reeve was Staley's assistant at the Tokyo Games.

"There's a lot more than the three of us that are from the Philly area that are going to be here this weekend,'' Reeve said on Wednesday. "Dawn is from Philly, Geno is more the suburbs, and I'm from South Jersey. We all claim it as the Tri-State Area. We're all Philly.''

Staley carried the U.S. flag during the 2004 Olympics. Auriemma has long carried the banner for women's basketball, and his home city, which, it seems, should be known for something other than booing Santa.

"Maybe it's because we're close to New York and we have this inferiority complex, that we have to prove to everybody that we're smarter and tougher and better than everybody else,'' Auriemma said. "I think all of us from that area carry that around. We know everything about everything. We're smarter than you are. We're tougher than you are. And whatever we don't know, it's because we don't want to know. Whatever you do know that we don't know, it's because you don't know anything about what we know . . .

"Philadelphians, they cheer their champions better than anybody, and they boo their champions better than anybody.''

Staley is Auriemma's rival when it comes to titles, and ally when it comes to promoting women's hoops.

Space limitations will prevent a full accounting of everything interesting Staley and Auriemma have said this week. They rank among the most compelling figures in sport because they're not just good at their jobs; they're also willing and able to speak eloquently on anything from the pick-and-roll to racism.

Both have turned programs into media and fan magnets in a sport that, in too many places, struggles for recognition.

Winning makes their words resonate.

Auriemma is 11-0 in national title games. "We're 1-0,'' Staley said with a smile. ``So we're 100 percent, too.''