UConn women’s basketball’s rivalry with Tennessee will carry on for at least two more seasons.
On Friday, the Huskies announced a home-and-home series with the Vols through 2022-23. UConn will host Tennessee this upcoming season (date and location were not announced) before making the return trip to Knoxville the year after.
Once the biggest rivalry in the sport, UConn and Tennessee played 20 times between 1995 and 2007, including seven times in the Final Four. The Huskies defeated the Vols in the national title game in 1995, 2000, 2003, and 2004 and the Final Four in 2002. Tennessee ended UConn’s championship dreams in the national semifinal in 1996 and 1997.
Together, the two schools have captured a combined 19 national championships (11 for UConn, eight for Tennessee). No program has won more than three.
After the 2006-07 series, Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt canceled the annual series over perceived recruiting violations by UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. Summitt stepped down from her position in 2012 after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia and died in 2016.
In 2018, the schools announced a two-game renewal of the series to benefit the Pat Summitt Foundation and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. UConn won both games, though not without some drama.
In the first meeting on Jan. 23, 2020, the Huskies trailed by three at the half but got a big defensive performance from then-freshman Aubrey Griffin and won 60-45.
This past season, UConn traveled down to Knoxville, where Evina Westbrook prepared to face off against her former team. Prior, she was asked if she had any friends still on the team or if she was looking forward to seeing anything.
“No,” she said curtly.
At the end of three quarters, the Huskies trailed by four but found a spark from their defense and ripped off a 9-0 run which helped it eventually build a nine-point lead with 4:46 left. The momentum flipped when Paige Bueckers twisted her ankle and left the game, opening the door for Tennessee to cut the Huskies’ lead down to two with 1:16 left.
After getting her ankle taped under the bleachers, Bueckers returned and hit a game-sealing 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with less than 30 seconds left on the game clock. UConn went on to win 67-61.
PAIGE. BUECKERS. pic.twitter.com/W1F8dQrECM— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) January 22, 2021
The continuation of the series comes as somewhat of a surprise considering Auriemma said there had been no discussion of an extension and downplayed the current significance of the rivalry prior to the most recent matchup.
“I think people have to realize [UConn-Tennessee] is not a big deal anymore,” he said in January. “I mean, it’s not. Whatever you want to say, it’s not that big a deal anymore.”
“We didn’t sell out the game last year, not even close,” he added later, referencing the attendance of 13,659 at the 15,558-seat XL Center. “So how big a deal is it? And we’ve probably sold out every single Notre Dame game we played in the last 10 years.”
Auriemma did seem to change his tune after the game, though.
“Now that it just feels like everybody’s okay with doing it — especially when the fans come back — yeah,” he said when asked about potentially continuing the series. “I mean, you want to give your players a chance to play the best teams in the toughest environments and certainly this is one of those environments.”
With Tennessee now on the slate, UConn has two more openings on its non-conference schedule.
Home: Notre Dame, Tennessee
Away: Oregon, South Carolina
Neutral: Louisville (Mohegan Sun), Battle 4 Atlantis (three games, opponents TBA)