It was an old rivalry with a new twist. As UConn coach Geno Auriemma said with uncharacteristic emotion, “It wasn’t the same. I miss having her there.”
‘Her’ was legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Her and Auriemma’s squads did battle many times during her tenure, with UConn edging out Tennessee 13-9 for the series lead between the two teams. During each of those 22 games, both teams were in the Top 15 in the AP Poll. It was a rivalry for the ages that finally concluded around 2007.
On Thursday night, for the first time in thirteen years, the Huskies and Volunteers met on the basketball court again, although this time, Summitt was not leading the ladies in orange. Having retired in 2012, the all-time leader in coaching wins died in 2016 at just age 63, having been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers. It was a devastatingly early end to the career of one of the greatest coaches to ever do it.
Tennessee, led by coach Kelli Harper, came out of the gates firing on Thursday, taking a lead into halftime on the Huskies’ home court. Auriemma would ultimately pull the right strings, and his team played with a renewed ferocity. Their dominant second half propelled the home squad to a 60-45 victory. The intensity of the game, especially for the first three quarters when the game was still in doubt, echoed the old intensity of what was quite possibly the greatest rivalry ever on a college basketball court.
And, even if it wasn’t the same, it was a big win for the Huskies, who answered some major questions with a statement win over their first ranked opponent since their 16-point home loss to Baylor.
All Eyes On Oregon
In other women’s basketball headlines, the games to watch this weekend once again reside in the Pac-12. After Stanford engaged in two top-10 duels last week, there will be another pair of premier match-ups to watch in the coming days. Fans of high quality basketball and exciting rivalries will want to tune in as #4 Oregon hosts #7 Oregon State on Friday, before the two squads switch locations and do it again on Sunday, with the Ducks visiting the Beavers. Oregon is 15-2 and has won eight of their past eleven games by at least thirty points, including an 87-55 beat-down of Stanford. The Cowboys started 15-0, but they’ve been tripped up in two of their past three games, losing at Arizona State and at home to Stanford by a combined 11 points. It should be a thrilling series out west, and one that will clear up some of the muddled confusion at the top of the rankings.