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Pregame notes: Is UConn-Baylor a rivalry?

There’s more to a rivalry than having two good teams go up against each other.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

How to watch

When: Monday, March 29, 7 p.m. EST

Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas

TV: ESPN | Ryan Ruocco (pxp), Rebecca Lobo (analyst), Holly Rowe (sideline)


Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)

Baylor Bears

Record: 28-2 (17-1 Big 12)

Seed: 2

Location: Waco, Texas

Head coach: Kim Mulkey (21st season)

Over the last decade, UConn and Baylor have been the top two programs in the country. They’ve combined for six of the last eight national titles and in 13 of the last 14 years, either the Huskies or Bears have entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 team in the AP Poll.

The two teams have played some entertaining games over the years and Monday’s game should be no different. In fact, UConn and Baylor have split the all-time series with each side winning four times.

Yet even with all that, there’s no rivalry between the two schools.

For starters, this will only be the ninth time in 12 years UConn and Baylor have squared off and just the second time in the postseason. The Huskies used to meet Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament seemingly every year while UConn and Notre Dame would play in the Big East Tournament and Final Four on a routine basis.

Those high-stakes matchups defined each rivalries and many of those games are still talked about today. That can’t be said for any UConn-Baylor games. Though it’s competitive, there’s rarely anything on the line. And that one meeting in the Final Four? The Huskies won by 20.

This series also lacks a fundamental piece that both the Tennessee and Notre Dame rivalries had: Drama between the coaches. Auriemma used to constantly throw barbs at both Pat Summitt and Muffet McGraw through the media and both were always happy to fire back. Half the time, the off-court battle between the coaches was more entertaining than whatever happened on the court.

That’s not the case for Auriemma and Kim Mulkey, who seem to have a respectful, congenial relationship.

“The best thing you can say about a coach is they’re true to their personality. They believe in a certain way of playing and coaching and they stay with it,” Auriemma said on Sunday. “That’s why [Mulkey’s] had the success that she’s had. It’s no mystery, really.”

The two rarely even cross paths on the recruiting trail. Over the last five classes, 10 of Baylor’s 15 signees have come from Texas. The Bears also typically recruit traditional, back-to-the-basket post players and rely heavily on the transfer market while UConn prefers more athletic, versatile bigs and doesn’t bring in many transfers.

They are two drastically different programs that have found different formulas to success. So sit back and watch those styles clash on Monday night with a trip to the Final Four on the line in what should be an exciting game. Just don’t call it a rivalry.

Scouting the Bears

Opponent Preview: No. 1 UConn women’s basketball vs. No. 2 Baylor

How they got here

UConn easily moved past No. 16 High Point and No. 8 Syracuse in the first two rounds before defeating Caitlin Clark and No. 5 Iowa in a thrilling Sweet Sixteen showdown.

Baylor crushed No. 15 Jackson State and No. 7 Virginia Tech but needed overtime to beat No. 6 Michigan. The Wolverines tied the game at 63 in the final seconds and went ahead early in OT before the Bears stormed back and went up three with 8.7 seconds left.

Michigan had two chances to tie it on its final possession but couldn’t find the game-tying bucket as Baylor escaped with the victory. NaLyssa Smith scored 24 points and tied an NCAA Tournament record with 11 baskets without a miss.

Series history

Despite being the two top programs in women’s basketball over the last decade, UConn and Baylor have only played eight times and just once in the postseason — their first meeting. Maya Moore and the Huskies took down Brittney Griner and the Bears 70-50 in the Final Four en route to UConn’s seventh national title in 2010.

Each school has come out on top four times but Baylor has won the last two contests, a 68-57 win in Waco in 2019 and a 74-58 victory at the XL Center in 2020.

View from the other side

Kim Mulkey on Paige Bueckers: “Being an old point guard myself, the first thing I noticed when I saw her play is she has unbelievable court vision. She can deliver passes to her teammates that make it very easy for them to score. You don’t see much of that in players anymore. They work on their game and all they work on is one on one basketball and taking you off the dribble and stoppin’ and poppin’ and shooting the three. So I hate that we’re playing against her because she may burn us.”

Geno not happy with Baylor’s seed

Auriemma is not thrilled that UConn has to face Baylor in the Elite Eight instead of either the Final Four or national championship.

“I think they were under-seeded. Explain to me how they’re at number two seed,” he said. “These things happen, I know, but I think they deserve to be a number one seed if you look around the rest of the tournament.”

Auriemma reiterated his feelings during a second Zoom call with reporters later in the day.

“I just can’t believe that we’re playing Baylor in the final eight if we’re a number one seed,” he said. “We’re number one seed and supposedly we were the number two [overall seed], you mean to tell me Baylor’s number seven? So somebody got that wrong if they asked me.”

By the numbers

4 — Kim Mulkey has only reached the Final Four four times as a head coach. She’s 4-5 in the Elite Eight and just 1-4 since 2014.

5 — In 25 appearances, UConn has lost just five times in the Elite Eight — 1994, 1997, 1998, 2005 and 2006.

12 — UConn has made the last 12 Final Fours. The last time the Huskies missed out was in 2007, the year before Maya Moore arrived.

18 — Aaliyah Edwards is averaging 18 points per game in the NCAA Tournament — second-most on the team.

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