The Tennessee Lady Vols and Connecticut Huskies restored their rivalry beginning in 2020. Here’s that that helps the women’s basketball Volunteers the most.
Look, there’s no way to ignore the statistics. In January of 2007, the Tennessee Lady Vols won their third straight game against the UCONN Huskies. It would be the last time the two teams met in the rivalry.
Thanks to a collection of recruits she brought in up to that point, Pat Summitt was able to win back to back national championships. But since then, with the rivalry coming to an end, UT has failed to reach the Final Four in a decade. Meanwhile, UCONN has rattled off SIX more national championships.
Summitt did a lot of great things for women’s basketball. No individual is more solely responsible for the elevation of the sport than she is. And her tragic illness and then death was a major blow to the sport in addition to the issues it cause the Tennessee Lady Vols program. But discontinuing this series over a recruiting issue was a mistake.
Now, with the news that the two schools will finally renew their rivalry, fans on Rocky Top should be celebrating. This elevates both teams’ profiles, but there’s no denying it does way more for the Lady Vols than it does UCONN. And say what you want, but the data since then proves it.
The series was discontinued because Summitt, and to be fair the SEC as a whole, had claimed a recruiting violation against the Huskies. She took this action in response. But it did not serve its purpose. Since that final game, all that’s happened is UCONN dominating the Lady Vols recruiting even more.
Let’s just take this decade. Since 2010, the Huskies have had a higher ranked recruiting class than Tennessee six of nine times. Two of those other times, although the Lady Vols got the No. 1 ranked class, UCONN came in at No. 2, and the rankings were basically a tie.
But the real story is not UCONN recruiting at its level. It’s the way Tennessee’s recruiting has fallen off since the rivalry was discontinued. Sure, they’ve still secured quite a few elite classes. But four times this decade, they’ve failed to have a Top 5 class. Three times, they were outside of the Top 10, and one time they weren’t even ranked. By UT standards, those numbers are awful.
Let’s go to the years before, though, for more anecdotal evidence. Right after the Lady Vols last played UCONN, Auriemma signed the best player in the nation in back to back years, 2008 and 2009. Then came 2010, in which the Tennessee Lady Vols did not sign one Top 10 player and only had one Top 60 player overall.
Holly Warlick has taken a lot of blame for the fall of the Tennessee Lady Vols in recent years. And she deserves criticism for her coaching. But it clearly began before she took over. The direct fall can be traced exactly back to the first year Tennessee played with recruits signed after discontinuing the series with UCONN. That can’t be a coincidence.
So fans everywhere should be celebrating the news that the rivalry has been restored. We all know it’s good for women’s basketball and fun for fans in Connecticut and Tennessee. But the real story is how it can help restore the Lady Vols more than anything else.