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Likelihood of Connecticut, Tennessee series returning is greater than ever

The Connecticut Huskies and Tennessee Lady Vols haven't played one another since 2007, but the likelihood that the series could return sees greater than ever.

One of the two gifts Holly Warlick presented Geno Auriemma at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame was a pair of stemmed wine glasses with Mason jars affixed.
One of the two gifts Holly Warlick presented Geno Auriemma at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame was a pair of stemmed wine glasses with Mason jars affixed.
Photo by Maria M. Cornelius.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony opened with a tribute to the Wayland Baptist Flying Queens, a program that won four AAU national titles and 131 games in a row from 1953 to 1958. The rowdy group of former players in attendance were told to stand - those that could, emcee Debbie Antonelli joked - and received sustained applause.

Prior to the ceremony, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma and Tennessee Coach Holly Warlick hosted a reception - tickets to the sold-out event cost up to $200 for the 300-plus attendees - to benefit the hall.

The two greeted each other warmly, another indicator that tension between the two programs has waned after Pat Summitt ended the series in 2007 because she suspected recruiting violations at UConn, and she wanted a level playing court against a rival coach she considered a true peer.

The likelihood that the series could return seems greater than ever, and both coaches said they would be thrilled to meet at the Final Four in Nashville next April.

Warlick has a well-developed sense of humor, and she presented Auriemma with two gifts at the reception - a bottle of "Volunteer," wine and two stemmed wine glasses with Mason jars affixed because, as she said, "everyone knows we're rednecks here."

Warlick sampled the wine over the weekend at an early birthday party for Summitt - she will be 61 on June 14 - who was in attendance at the induction ceremony and received sustained applause.

"I promise you it's good wine," Warlick said of the Cabernet from the Napa Valley. As far as those Mason jar wine glasses, Warlick laughed and said, "I've had them. I thought it would be funny to give them to him."

Former UConn player and current Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti would love to see the return of the series.

"It was amazing," she said. "It always seemed that the magnitude of the game was so grand. It was for a number one ranking in the country. It was for a national championship or a Final Four game to get to a national championship. That is what makes a rivalry heat up as quickly as that one did in 1995 and 1996. It was awesome to be a part of it and fun to watch it.

"I watch as much college basketball as anyone, but I never missed the UConn-Tennessee game, and I know there is a lot of people who would say the same thing. If people are still talking about it, then it probably means it needs to come back. It's nice to see that there have been some other great rivalries that have sprouted up in the meantime, but you are talking about two programs that have some of the best coaches and some of the best players and if you're a women's basketball fan, you want to see them play each other."

The Lady Vols have a hole in their schedule after Baylor declined to renew the series. Texas A&M also is looking for another non-conference foe.

"Unfortunately, our schedule is full," said Rizzotti, the head coach at Hartford. "I would play the game as long as they'll come to Hartford. Next year I am going to have to call both of them and see if they'll come."

It would be somewhat amusing if Tennessee were to start playing Hartford before UConn.

"I don't how Geno would feel about me playing Tennessee," Rizzotti said, before adding, "I am sure he wouldn't care. He would play it, so I don't think he would care if I played it."

Click here for more on the induction ceremony.