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Archive for Friday, March 29, 2002

UConn, Tennessee ready to renew heated rivalry

March 29, 2002

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— It's a rivalry that has almost transcended the sport, and it certainly is the biggest thing going in this women's Final Four.

Connecticut vs. Tennessee. 'Nuff said.

They'll meet in the national semifinals at the Alamodome tonight, the latest installment in a series that outshines all others in the women's game.

No two teams have been more successful in recent years. Between them, they have won five of the last seven national championships  Tennessee from 1996 through 1998, Connecticut in 1995 and 2000.

Tennessee has been in the Final Four six times in that span, Connecticut five. This will be their fourth meeting at the Final Four.

The coaches? There's mutual respect, but Connecticut's Geno Auriemma and Tennessee's Pat Summitt certainly aren't friends. There's simply too much competition between the programs.

"It's taken on a bigger-than-life significance, more than it probably should," Auriemma said. "And it's probably because there's not enough games like this during the course of the year.

"But they always seem to be where we want to go, and we always seem to be where they want to go."

Where they want to go now is Sunday night's championship game against either Oklahoma or Duke, who meet in the other semifinal. The fact that they would beat the other to get there only makes it more significant.

"A title wouldn't be what it is if you didn't beat Tennessee," said Diana Taurasi, Connecticut's fearless shooting guard.

For Tennessee (29-4), it's a chance to ruin what so far as been a perfect season for the Huskies (37-0), who win with such ridiculous ease they are being talked about as perhaps the best women's team ever.

That's enough to get Summitt's competitive juices flowing.

"Connecticut has been the best, game in and game out," she said. "But if you're a competitor, and we do have a few of those on our basketball team, then what is the ideal matchup? To play the best, and we get to play the best."

The Vols' challenge is figuring out a way to stop five talented individuals who act as one.

Point guard Sue Bird, the national player of the year, gets it all started. Taurasi will shoot from anywhere if she feels the urge and there's a good chance she'll make it. The frontcourt of Tamika Williams, Asjha Jones and Swin Cash go to the boards relentlessly and get easy shots because of Bird's crisp passing.

"Their offense, I said it looked like a Swiss watch. Everything is click, click, click," Summitt said. "It's really the best passing team I've seen in the women's game, and I've been in it a long time."

Connecticut beat Tennessee 86-72 in their regular-season game in Knoxville on Jan. 5.

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