UConn-Tennessee rivalry

The women's basketball rivalry between the University of Tennessee Lady 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.

The coaches

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 highest paid) in their sport, with both being in the Basketball Hall of Fame and 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 Year five 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 ESPN country, 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 games

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 Wolters and 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 Marciniak powered 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 Taurasi gave UConn four of the next five national championships. In that run of 2000 to 2004, UConn crushed Tennessee in the rivalry, winning nine of the next eleven meetings, including the 2000, 2003, and 2004 championship 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 2002 Final Four at the Alamodome in San Antonio was in front of the largest crowd in women's history (29,619). The 2006 regular-season game at Thompson-Boling Arena in 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, "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.

Date UConn Tennessee Site
January 16, 1995 UConn 77 Tennessee 64 Storrs, CT
April 2, 1995 UConn 70 Tennessee 66 Minneapolis, MN (National Championship)
January 6, 1996 UConn 59 Tennessee 53 Knoxville, TN
March 29, 1996 UConn 83 Tennessee 89 (OT) Charlotte, NC (Final Four)
January 5, 1997 UConn 72 Tennessee 57 Hartford, CT
March 24, 1997 UConn 81 Tennessee 91 Iowa City, IA (Regional Final)
January 3, 1998 UConn 69 Tennessee 84 Knoxville, TN
January 10, 1999 UConn 81 Tennessee 92 Storrs, CT
January 8, 2000 UConn 74 Tennessee 67 Knoxville, TN
February 2, 2000 UConn 71 Tennessee 72 Storrs, CT
April 2, 2000 UConn 71 Tennessee 52 Philadelphia, PA (National Championship)
December 30, 2000 UConn 81 Tennessee 76 Hartford, CT
February 1, 2001 UConn 88 Tennessee 92 Knoxville, TN
January 5, 2002 UConn 86 Tennessee 72 Knoxville, TN
March 29, 2002 UConn 79 Tennessee 56 San Antonio, TX (Final Four)
January 4, 2003 UConn 63 Tennessee 62 (OT) Hartford, CT
April 8, 2003 UConn 73 Tennessee 68 Atlanta, GA (National Championship)
February 5, 2004 UConn 81 Tennessee 67 Knoxville, TN
April 6, 2004 UConn 70 Tennessee 61 New Orleans, LA (National Championship)
January 8, 2005 UConn 67 Tennessee 68 Hartford, CT
January 7, 2006 UConn 80 Tennessee 89 Knoxville, TN
January 6, 2007 UConn 64 Tennessee 70 Hartford, CT

Notes and references

External links

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