- UConn-Tennessee rivalry
basketballrivalry between the University of TennesseeLady Vols and the University of Connecticut(UConn) Huskies is one of the fiercest rivalries in college basketball, and perhaps the only one to reach national consciousness out of the women's game. The matchup features two long-tenured and media savvy coaches generally acknowledged among the top five ever in their sport, over a dozen players who went on to play in the WNBA, and two programs that have combined for 13 national championships. Their head-to-head matchups are consistently the top-rated games in the college women's field.
Until the 2006-2007 season, the two programs met annually in winter at one or both of the schools, but the rivalry is unique for having a third of its games occurring in the women's NCAA tournament. Four times, the national championship has been on the line.
The schools started playing each other in
1995. As of early 2007, UConn leads the series 13-9, including 5-2 in the tournament and 4-0 for the title. On the day of every meeting, both schools have been ranked in the top fifteen in the Associated Press rankings.
On June 8, 2007, it was announced the schools would discontinue the regular-season series. [cite web|url=http://sports.aol.com/fanhouse/2007/06/08/uconn-tennessee-end-womens-basketball-rivalry/|title=UConn, Tennessee End Women's Basketball Rivalry|accessdate=2007-06-10]
The rivalry is notable among team sports in that it almost unerringly focuses on the sidelines rather than the floor. The two coaches are far and away the best known (and [http://sports.espn.go.com/ncw/news/story?id=2454106 highest paid] ) in their sport, with both being in the
Basketball Hall of Fameand Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Between them, they account for almost 1,500 wins.
On the Tennessee side is
Pat Summitt, the all-time winningest NCAA Division I college basketball coach, male or female. Summitt has won eight NCAA women's tournaments, more than anyone else. She is the acknowledged dean of women's college basketball in the modern era. She has been the Naismith College Coach of the Yearfive times.
On the UConn side is
Geno Auriemma, who has won five of the last eleven NCAA women's tournaments, four at the expense of Summitt in the finals. A media firebrand in the heart of ESPNcountry, Auriemma has become the most accomplished coach in the last decade, at one point posting a 70-game winning streak. He has four Naismith awards to Summitt's five.
The two have poured gasoline on the fire in press conferences, with Auriemma at one point calling Tennessee the "
Evil Empire". The two have apparently mended fences after some sparring, Auriemma noted in his autobiography, "Geno."
The two schools first met on
January 16, 1995, when televised women's basketball was a rarity. At this high point, with dominant players such as Rebecca Lobo, Kara Woltersand Jennifer Rizzotti, UConn's program was on the rise, beating Tennessee during the regular season and again for the title and an undefeated regular season. They would win another rivalry game in 1996.
The next three years belonged to Summitt, as the Lady Vols won four of the next five meetings with the Huskies en route to three straight national championships. The "Meeks"—
Chamique Holdsclaw, Semeka Randall, and Tamika Catchings—and point guard Michelle Marciniakpowered Tennessee past all rivals, including UConn.
On the horizon, though, were Auriemma's most dominant classes yet, and possibly the strongest lineup ever in the women's game. The starting five of
Sue Bird, Asjha Jones, Swin Cash, Tamika Williams, and (for the latter part of the run) Diana Taurasigave UConn four of the next five national championships. In that run of 2000to 2004, UConn crushed Tennessee in the rivalry, winning nine of the next eleven meetings, including the 2000, 2003, and 2004championship games.
In the three seasons since Taurasi went to the WNBA, Summitt has rebounded with strong new players like
Candace Parker, and has won each meeting. UConn's program, while still fearsome, has lacked a dominant scorer like Taurasi, and Tennessee has made the most of this vulnerability.
With these results, the rivalry continues to be top-of-mind in the women's game. A matchup in the
2002Final Four at the Alamodomein San Antonio was in front of the largest crowd in women's history (29,619). The 2006regular-season game at Thompson-Boling Arenain Knoxville drew the largest crowd ever for a regular-season women's game (24,653).
After the 2007 game, Auriemma noted that the rivalry, while still intense, has lost some of its edge because of increasing parity in the women's game. As an illustration, 2006 was the first time since 1999 that neither UConn nor Tennessee had made the Final Four. He remarked, [cite web|url=http://proxy.espn.go.com/ncw/recap?gameId=270060041 |title=Parker, Tenn. snatch UConn off the list of undefeated |publisher=
Associated Pressvia ESPN |date=January 6, 2007] "In some sense, a small sense, it's still the Red Sox and the Yankees. It still is. But there's still a lot more good things going on in college basketball now. That's just the reality of it."
Winning team is shown in bold.
Notes and references
* [http://sports.espn.go.com/ncw/news/story?page=series/volshuskies Series history]
* [http://sports.espn.go.com/ncw/news/story?page=geno/excerpt Auriemma book excerpt on the rivalry]
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