WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL Tennessee, UConn on stage
It is one of the sport's best rivalries, which gets renewed today.
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- In 15 previous meetings, the game between Connecticut and Tennessee has determined either the top ranking, a trip to the Final Four or the national championship.
The winner of today's contest between No. 3 UConn (11-0) and No. 5 Tennessee (9-2) will simply secure regular-season bragging rights to the high profile women's basketball rivalry. UConn leads the series 9-6.
The Lady Vols also have a chance to snap UConn's 50-game winning streak, the second-longest in NCAA history. Louisiana Tech won 54 in a row from 1980-82.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said the streak doesn't add any more motivation. The intensity has always been there.
"It's more about the respect for UConn and the great games we have had against them," Summitt said. "We weren't competitive last year and in the last couple of Final Four situations we haven't played well against them. Our regular season matchups have been better. The game is about establishing ourselves against someone we have tremendous respect for."
The Huskies capped a 39-0 season last year with their third national championship. UConn advanced to the title game by handily beating the Lady Vols, 79-56, in the national semifinal. All-American junior guard Diana Taurasi is the lone starter left from the title team. UConn coach Geno Auriemma is quick to point out this year's players had little to do with the streak.
"Diana Taurasi has won 50 games, the rest have cheered for 30 and won 11," Auriemma said. "As far as we're concerned we're 11-0. No more, no less. This group needs to concern themselves with a lot of other things, but that's not one of them."
Since 1990, the Huskies and Lady Vols have a combined six national titles and every game in the rivalry has been nationally televised.
"This matchup has elevated the sport of women's basketball through the last few years," Tennessee senior guard Kara Lawson said. "I am excited about this game because it might be the last chance I ever get to play against Connecticut."
Lawson and fellow senior Gwen Jackson lead the Lady Vols with 13.7 and 15.7 points a game, respectively. Summitt returns nine veterans this year.
"We hope that our veterans will go in and compete," she said. "We expect them to communicate and work as a team."
The Huskies have been a work in progress with Taurasi providing the consistency. She leads the team with 19.3 points and 6.8 boards a game. Tennessee always seems to bring out the best in her. She scored a career-high 32 points against the Lady Vols a year ago.
"[Tennessee] has the size, the experience. They have everything now," Taurasi said. "We're going to have to outwork them. Everybody is going to have to play above their games."
The Huskies will be without freshman guard Nicole Wolff, out six to eight weeks with a stress fracture in her left leg. Junior Maria Conlon will start in her place, Auriemma said.
"We've got a lot of kids that need a lot of playing time," Auriemma said. "Other than Diana, we don't have the ability to put together a group of players that have played together significant minutes. Obviously, Tennessee has a huge advantage."
To this point
The Lady Vols have lost to No. 1 Duke and No. 17 Texas. The Huskies' only ranked opponent so far has been No. 19 Oklahoma. UConn won the rematch of the national title game 73-60 over the Sooners.
"Kids will surprise you. That's one of the things that make it both nerve wracking and exciting," Auriemma said. "When they came here a few years ago they had a young team and we beat the living daylights out of them. Three months later, they whacked us pretty good for the right to go to the Final Four. Anything can happen."