Connecticut–Tennessee women's basketball rivalry

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Connecticut–Tennessee women's basketball rivalry
Sport Women's basketball
First meeting January 16, 1995
Connecticut 77, Tennessee 66
Latest meeting January 6, 2007
Tennessee 70, Connecticut 64
Next meeting TBD
Meetings total 22
All-time series Connecticut leads, 13–9
Largest victory Connecticut, 79–56 (2002)
Longest win streak Connecticut, 6 (2002–2004)
Current win streak Tennessee, 3 (2005–present)

The women's basketball rivalry between the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers and the University of Connecticut Huskies was 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 featured two long-tenured and media savvy coaches generally acknowledged among the top five ever in their sport, over two dozen players who went on to play in the WNBA, and two programs that have combined for 19 national championships. Their head-to-head matchups were consistently the top-rated games in the college women's field.

Until the 2006-07 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. At the end of 2016, UConn led the series 13-9, including 5-2 in the tournament and 4-0 for the title. However, the Lady Vols have won the last three against UConn. On the day of every meeting, both schools have been ranked in the top 15 in the Associated Press rankings.

In AP Poll history, Tennessee and UConn have the two longest appearance streaks in women's college basketball. Tennessee had a 565-week run spanning 31 years and UConn currently has a 450-week run covering 23 years.[1] In addition, UConn has the most No. 1 appearances with 224 with Tennessee in second at 112.

The two schools discontinued the regular-season series after the 2006-2007 season, and have not played each other since.[2][dead link] The next season, both teams made the 2008 Final Four, but Stanford defeated UConn in the semifinals. Tennessee won the championship.

The coaches[edit]

In its heyday, the rivalry was notable among team sports in that it almost unerringly focused on the sidelines rather than the floor. The two coaches were far and away the best known and best paid in their sport,[3] with both being in the Basketball Hall of Fame and Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Between them, they account for over 2,000 wins.

On the Tennessee side was Pat Summitt, the all-time winningest NCAA Division I college basketball coach, male or female. Summitt won eight NCAA women's tournaments. She was the acknowledged dean of women's college basketball in the modern era. She was the Naismith College Coach of the Year six times.

On the UConn side is Geno Auriemma, who has won eleven of the last twenty-two 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, which included a record-breaking 111-game winning streak which began in the fall of 2014 and ended during the Final Four of 2017 NCAA women's tournament. He has seven Naismith awards to Summitt's six.

The two poured gasoline on the fire in press conferences, with Auriemma at one point calling Tennessee the "Evil Empire". The two apparently mended fences after some sparring, as Auriemma noted in his autobiography, Geno.

The games[edit]

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 five seasons after Taurasi went to the WNBA, Summitt rebounded with strong new players like Candace Parker, and won each meeting. UConn's program lacked a dominant scorer like Taurasi, and Tennessee made the most of this vulnerability.

With these results, the rivalry continues to be top-of-mind in the women's game, even years after its discontinuation. 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, 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,[4] "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."


Date Winning team Losing team Site Series Notes
January 16, 1995 Connecticut 77 Tennessee 66 Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT Connecticut
April 2, 1995 Connecticut 70 Tennessee 64 Target Center, Minneapolis, MN Connecticut
NCAA National Championship
January 6, 1996 Connecticut 59 Tennessee 53 Thompson–Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN Connecticut
March 29, 1996 Tennessee 88 Connecticut 83* Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC Connecticut
NCAA Final Four
January 5, 1997 Connecticut 72 Tennessee 57 Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT Connecticut
March 24, 1997 Tennessee 91 Connecticut 81 Carver–Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA Connecticut
NCAA Elite Eight
January 3, 1998 Tennessee 84 Connecticut 69 Thompson–Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN Connecticut
January 10, 1999 Tennessee 92 Connecticut 81 Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT tie 4-4
January 8, 2000 Connecticut 74 Tennessee 67 Thompson–Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN Connecticut
February 2, 2000 Tennessee 72 Connecticut 71 Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT tie 5-5
April 2, 2000 Connecticut 71 Tennessee 52 Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA Connecticut
NCAA National Championship
December 30, 2000 Connecticut 81 Tennessee 76 Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT Connecticut
February 1, 2001 Tennessee 92 Connecticut 88 Thompson–Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN Connecticut
January 5, 2002 Connecticut 86 Tennessee 72 Thompson–Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN Connecticut
March 29, 2002 Connecticut 79 Tennessee 56 Alamodome, San Antonio, TX Connecticut
NCAA Final Four
January 4, 2003 Connecticut 63 Tennessee 62* Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT Connecticut
April 8, 2003 Connecticut 73 Tennessee 68 Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA Connecticut
NCAA National Championship
February 5, 2004 Connecticut 81 Tennessee 67 Thompson–Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN Connecticut
April 6, 2004 Connecticut 70 Tennessee 61 New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA Connecticut
NCAA National Championship
January 8, 2005 Tennessee 68 Connecticut 67 Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT Connecticut
January 7, 2006 Tennessee 89 Connecticut 80 Thompson–Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN Connecticut
January 6, 2007 Tennessee 70 Connecticut 64 Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT Connecticut

Connecticut victories are shaded ██ blue. Tennessee victories shaded in ██ orange.
* indicates overtime game

Other sports[edit]

Though the Connecticut Huskies and the Tennessee Volunteers no longer play each other in the regular season for women's basketball matchups, the rivalry has now begun to spread into other sports as the two schools have agreed to play each other in other matchups in the future. On September 4, 2008, UConn and Tennessee agreed to a home and home series in football for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, but in order to play Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016, the series has been postponed. Furthermore, because of UConn's "Gang of Five" status while Tennessee was in the "Power Five," the series may not be held.[5][6] Nearly a year later on July 22, 2009, Huskies men's basketball head coach Jim Calhoun and Vols men's basketball head coach Bruce Pearl agreed to a home and home basketball series in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons.[7][8] Summitt's son Tyler was on the Volunteers' roster for both games.

During the 2012-13 season, Tyler Summitt joined Marquette's coaching staff for the women's team, the final year of the pre-split Big East. The Huskies won against the Golden Eagles in both games. The Summitt family's rivalry is now at Connecticut 16, Summitts 10 (13-9 during the rivalry, Tyler Summitt was 1-1 at Tennessee against Connecticut as men's basketball player, 0-2 as Marquette's assistant coach).

Notes and references[edit]

External links[edit]