Top moments from the UConn-Tennessee rivalry
- M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
The UConn Huskies and Tennessee Lady Volunteers have met 25 times, seven of those in the NCAA tournament. They will meet again today (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App) in Knoxville, Tennessee, in a rivalry that showcased the best of women’s basketball from 1995-2007. Lady Vols coaching legend Pat Summitt then opted for a hiatus to the series, which resumed in 2020 after former Tennessee player Kellie Harper took over as coach.
The unranked Lady Vols seek their first win in the series since it renewed, while the No. 5 Huskies will try to extend their winning streak this season to 12 in a row. UConn has a 16-9 edge in the series, and leads 5-2 in their NCAA tournament meetings.
Here, we rank the 10 best games in the series, taking into account how close they were, their historical significance and their impact on the rivalry.
10. Jan. 21, 2021: UConn 67, Tennessee 61
This second meeting since the series’ January 2020 resumption felt more like the old days.
The Lady Vols led 49-45 going into the third quarter. UConn surged in the fourth quarter, taking an eight-point lead with just under four minutes left. Tennessee cut UConn’s margin to 63-61 with under a minute remaining. Then-UConn freshman Paige Bueckers, who struggled from the field (3-of-14), made her only 3-pointer of the game with 28 seconds left for the door-slammer.
9. Jan. 7, 2006: No. 1 Tennessee 89, No. 7 UConn 80
The Lady Vols pulled away in the final minutes for their second-straight win in the series. Superstar Candace Parker had 13 points, and Sidney Spencer had one of her best career games with 21 points and six rebounds. The 24,653 in attendance remains the largest crowd the Lady Vols have had at Thompson-Boling Arena.
8. Jan. 8, 2005: No. 10 Tennessee 68, No. 15 UConn 67
Neither team had its customary high-wattage star power; Diana Taurasi had graduated for UConn and Parker, a would-be freshman, was sitting out the season with a knee injury for Tennessee. Yet, the game still showcased the rivalry itself: Tennessee’s Sa’de Wiley-Gatewood converted a three-point play with 15 seconds left for a 68-66 lead. The Huskies uncharacteristically missed two of three foul shots, and the Lady Vols ended a six-game skid in the series.
7. April 8, 2003: No. 1 UConn 73, No. 4 Tennessee 68
The Huskies won their second consecutive NCAA title with an offensive showcase: UConn hit 10 3-pointers and shot 51% from the field. Taurasi, who had saved the Huskies in a late rally to beat Texas in the semifinals, scored 28 points in the championship game, while Kara Lawson had 18 for Tennessee. A third title in a row would come the next year for UConn, also against Tennessee.
6. Feb. 1, 2001: No. 3 Tennessee 92, No. 2 UConn 88
Tennessee’s emotions were high in this game, as it came about two weeks after senior star Tamika Catchings’ college career had ended early with a knee injury. Later that season, UConn would lose both Svetlana Abrosimova and Shea Ralph to injuries, and neither the Huskies nor Lady Vols would win the 2001 NCAA title. But this game was a gem, led by Tennessee sophomore Gwen Jackson’s 28 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.
5. Jan. 4, 2003: No. 3 UConn 63, No. 5 Tennessee 62 (OT)
The year after a perfect season and the departures of Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams to the WNBA, UConn was Taurasi’s team. Her 3-pointer with 7.5 seconds left sent the contest into overtime, where UConn added to its 51-game win streak .
4. Feb. 2, 2000: No. 4 Tennessee 72, No. 1 UConn 71
In a season in which they met again in the national championship game, both teams played at an elite level with multiple future pros — including UConn’s Taurasi and Bird — on the court.
After the Lady Vols trailed by six points at halftime, Semeka Randall hit the game-winner with 4.4 seconds left. It ended up being the Huskies’ only loss of the season.
3. Jan. 16, 1995: No. 2 UConn 77, No. 1 Tennessee 66
The Huskies won the first meeting in a series that would become women’s college basketball’s greatest rivalry at a packed Gampel Pavilion in a nationally televised game on Martin Luther King Jr. day. Both teams had five players score in double figures, led by UConn center Kara Wolters’ 18. When the game ended, the Huskies fans lingered to celebrate.
2. March 29, 1996: No. 4 Tennessee 88, No. 2 UConn 83 (OT)
For the second year in a row, the teams met at the Final Four, this time in the semifinals in a battle of No. 1 seeds. Led by freshman Chamique Holdsclaw, the Lady Vols won an intense contest in overtime — avenging their regular-season loss to UConn and getting their first-ever victory over the Huskies. They went on to take the first of three NCAA titles in a row.
1. April 2, 1995: No. 1 UConn 70, No. 3 Tennessee 64
The teams’ second-ever meeting came about three months after the first, and this one was for a national championship. UConn (35-0) became the second women’s college basketball team during the NCAA era to go undefeated, following Texas in 1986, and Huskies senior Rebecca Lobo was the Final Four’s most outstanding player. The rivalry was now officially the biggest thing in the women’s game.
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