Five years after Pat Summitt suddenly put an end to the UConn-Tennessee women’s basketball rivalry both sides may now be in the mood to consider reconciliation.
A source from the UConn athletic program and another close to the Lady Vols told The Courant both sides would be willing to discuss the resumption of a regular-season series between the two national powerhouses, as soon as the 2013-14 regular season.
“I can understand why UConn would be interested in it,” said the Tennessee source. “It wasn’t their decision to end the series in the first place.”
Both sides admit there has yet to be a formal proposal made. But for the first time since the summer of 2007, when the series ended, there appears hope for a resumption.
Apparently upset with UConn coach Geno Auriemma about a number of things, especially relating to the recruitment of Maya Moore, Summitt suspended what had become perhaps the most famous and intense rivalry in the sport prior to Moore’s freshman season, 2007-08.
The schools had played 22 times since UConn’s famous victory over Tennessee at Gampel Pavilion on Jan. 16, 1995. UConn won 13 of the games, including four national national championship games (1995, 2000, 2003 and 2004). But Tennessee had won the final three games prior to the end of the series.
But now the mood has apparently softened, on both sides, particularly since Summitt, 59, announced before last season she was battling an early form of dementia. She stepped aside as coach of the Lady Vols after 38 seasons after the end of the 2011-12 campaign and was named head coach emeritus by the school.
“It’s fair to say that we would be very interested in playing again,” said the UConn source. “I’m not aware of any conversations that have taken place as of the moment, but it’s something we would be in favor of.”
Coach Summitt and her son, Tyler, founded the Pat Summitt Foundation last year, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the disease and funds to help fight it. One of the first major contributors to the organization was Auriemma.
A major impetus for the teams to play again lies in the game being staged to benefit the charity, perhaps just one, perhaps perennially, depending on how things go and what variety of ideas are forwarded by both schools and interested networks.
A number of ground root efforts have been launched to raise money for the Foundation, the most notable the pledge of Kara Lawson, the former Tennessee guard, to donate $50 to the organization for every three-point short she makes this season. Her WNBA team, the Connecticut Sun, have agreed to match the sum.
There are nine other Tennessee players in the WNBA and Lawson said last week she hoped her effort would inspire others to do the same to come to Summitt’s assistance.
The staging of another UConn-Tennessee game, to benefit the foundation, is considered a commonsense and important step in the movement. And ESPN, the national cable home of women’s basketball and its Final Four, would welcome its return.
“ To date, I am not aware of any discussions but would be welcome it and always be open to meet and discuss any game that would serve our fan base and beyond,” said Carol Stiff, ESPN’s Vice President of programming and acquisitions.
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