HARTFORD, Conn. – The latest chapter in the UConn-Tennessee rivalry was different for Geno Auriemma. Pat Summitt was no longer on the sideline for the Lady Vols.
“It wasn't the same. I miss having her there," an emotional Auriemma said after UConn's 60-45 victory Thursday night. “I miss looking forward to having her there."
Crystal Dangerfield scored 14 points and No. 3 UConn used a dominant third quarter to beat 23rd-ranked Tennessee in the first matchup in 13 years between the teams whose rivalry dominated the sport for over a decade.
Trailing by three at the half, the Huskies (17-1) scored 17 of the first 19 points in the third quarter, taking a 45-33 lead on Dangerfield's 3-pointer with 1:45 left in the period. UConn led by 11 after three and Tennessee could get no closer in the fourth quarter.
“I felt like they came out with a different intensity defensively in the second half," Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. “The game plan might have changed a little bit. ... We lost our composure in the third quarter.”
Rennia Davis scored 16 points to lead the Lady Vols (15-4). They had only 14 points in the second half — the lowest total in program history.
“It was great to play in this environment with the history between both programs," Davis said.
Thursday night provided a little bit of nostalgia for those who remembered how these two teams carried women's basketball for over a decade since their first historic meeting in 1995 that was a 1 vs 2 showdown. They played 22 times over a 12-year span, with each one being a circle-the-calendar game whether it was in Tennessee, Connecticut or the NCAA Tournament.
“It felt good seeing them out there playing. Obviously, look down the sidelines and its completely different on the sidelines and the floor. Only thing similar was their uniforms," Auriemma said. “I got texts from lots of people that it was great for women's basketball. I guess. Things change, everything has a cycle. Could it still be something special? Who knows?"
The series ended after the 2007 season when Summitt called it off. Geno Auriemma said at the time that Summitt had accused the Huskies of a recruiting violation. Summitt never went public into specifics about why she ended the series. She died in 2016 at age 64 of Alzheimer's disease.
Former Tennessee coach Holly Warlick, a longtime assistant of Summitt's who helped set up Thursday's game, told The AP that the reason she agreed to restart the series was because it will benefit the Pat Summitt Foundation. The two teams will play in Knoxville next season. Proceeds from both games will go to it, along with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
UConn donated $10,000 to Summitt's foundation with Auriemma and Harper taking part in a ceremony at the half. The Huskies also are auctioning off the black uniforms they wore for the game with the proceeds going to the foundation.
“That's kind of the only reason that this game came about," said Auriemma about raising money for the foundation.
The game was part of the We Back Pat week in honor of Summitt. Both teams wore shirts honoring her. Tennessee got off to a fast start, scoring 10 of the first points. The Lady Vols led 16-14 after one quarter. They extended the lead to eight before holding a 31-28 advantage at the half. It was a sloppy opening 20 minutes with the two teams combining for 24 turnovers.
MISCUES: Tennessee committed 27 turnovers on the game, one short of their season worst, which was 28 against Notre Dame — a game the Lady Vols won.
“It's been a concern for this team, it's been an issue, We won't win big games and beat good teams with 27 turnovers," Harper said. “Not going to happen. as you put yourself in a hole. We held them to 60 points, that's pretty good defensively."
TIP-INS: Tennessee's previous low for a second-half was 17 done three times, the last came against Georgia in 2002. ... UConn shot just 31.5% from the field (23-for-73).
SPARK OFF THE BENCH: Aubrey Griffin had 13 points, seven rebounds and five steals, providing a huge lift for UConn. She hit five of her eight shots — the only Huskies player to shoot above 40% in the game.
“Every rebound she had a hand on it, every defensive possession she had a hand on it. She's got a lot to offer," Auriemma said. “She was amazing today. She was the difference in the game."
HISTORY: The Huskies won 13 of the first 22 meetings, including going 4-0 in the national championship game. Tennessee won the previous three meetings in the series before Thursday. Former stars of the series Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Rebecca Lobo were in attendance working the game on TV as well as Harper, who played for Tennessee.
Tennessee: Hosts LSU on Sunday.
UConn: At East Carolina on Saturday.
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