Not too long ago, women’s basketball hit the big time at least once per season. Two dominant teams representing two tradition-laden programs clashed as basketball titans headed by two championship-winning coaches.
When the Tennessee Lady Vols shared the same hardwood as the Connecticut Lady Huskies, eyes of the sports world took notice. And for a good reason.
The matchup almost always held championship implications. Players such as Diana Taurasi, Rebecca Lobo, Chamique Holdsclaw and Candace Parker provided star power for star coaches whose sour relationship always found the headlines. Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma’s mutual dislike for one another was only rivaled by the collective talent highlighted by their shared sidelines.
Think Bruce Pearl versus John Calipari, with championships to boast.
The UConn-UT rivalry, which began in 1995, always highlighted the pinnacle of women’s basketball. But then suddenly, as if by some form of basketball magic, the matchup disappeared.
In the summer of 2007, Tennessee respectfully declined to renew the series with UConn. Summitt versus Auriemma? No more. The rivarly became only a tournament wish that came with each announced NCAA bracket.
With Monday’s announcement of the 2010 NCAA Women’s Tournament seeds, both UConn and UT snagged No. 1 seeds thanks to seasons combining for only two losses (both Tennessee’s) between the two teams. And assuming a likely allignment of stars in fans’ favor, a scenario exists pitting the two teams against one another in this year’s Final Four in San Antonio.
UConn is in the midst of a winning streak of epic proportions. So epic, in fact, that Auriemma’s team broke its own record of 70 straight wins in February and now sits at 72 consecutive wins. Even heading into tournament time, the Huskies’ streak shows no signs of slowing down.
The Lady Vols have used a senior-less roster to put together Summitt’s 19th 30-win season, only one year after losing 11 games and waving bye-bye to the first round at the hands of Ball State. UT is back to Summitt’s standards, and a renewed regular season series with UConn could be the icing on that cake.
Do women’s basketball fans want this? Absolutely. It’s been three years since Summitt and Auriemma butted heads, three years since the South and the North went to battle on the hardwood. But the better question is, why can’t this return to a regular season affair?
The Lady Vols are back to prominence. UConn is seemingly unstoppable. The programs share a history of crossed paths en route to national championships. Even a verbal bout between Summitt and Auriemma would likely land on primetime ESPN. What’s not to like?
This matchup features the best of the best in women’s basketball, and any reasonable sports fan would circle such a date on the calendar. If, of course, the game made a return to the regular season.
Tennessee was the party responsible for shafting UConn’s renewal request, so here’s to hoping Summitt and UT women’s athletic director Joan Cronan reinvest in the matchup. Until then, fans will have to keep their fingers crossed for Summitt and Auriemma to meet in San Antonio this year.
UT, UConn should renew rivalry
Published: Wed Mar 17, 2010