All We Want For Christmas

At No. 1 and No. 2, UConn-Tennessee is a glaring omission from the schedule

Dec. 20, 2007

By Jeff Lippman


Jeff Lippman

Jeff is's lead women's basketball writer.
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Fans of women's college basketball are suffering greatly this Holiday season.


It's not that we're greedy. We realize the season's first two months have been outstanding with more Top 10 and Top 5 matchups than ever before.


In fact, teams who are currently - or were at one time - ranked inside the Top 6 have already met seven times, with countless other Top 10 battles.




We've already seen North Carolina against Tennessee, Connecticut against Stanford, Maryland against the Cardinal and LSU and Rutgers against pretty much everyone else.


But with all the hoopla and bells and whistles, something is missing, isn't it?


The AP Top 25 hasn't morphed too much since the opening week of the season. The Terps, Scarlet Knights, Tar Heels, Tigers and Cardinal have played musical chairs from week to week, but only two teams remained stationary at No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls.


Every year around this time - last year it was on Jan. 6 - a rivalry game takes place that showcases the best two programs in the history of the sport.


In fact, Connecticut and Tennessee have met five times in the regular season since the rivalry's first game in 1995 where the two were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the AP poll.


We've all heard the politics as to why these two teams decided to end their rivalry this season. And the sport will be just fine without the game that would have surely been the biggest draw of the entire year.


Still, fans and anyone else who pays attention to the sport can't help but feel slighted that we won't get to see Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma square off this season. The sport has been robbed of its most intriguing matchup - and this year would have probably been the biggest and baddest matchup yet.


"I am disappointed because I would love to see the matchup," said CSTV women's basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli. "Those two teams are clearly so much better than everybody else that it wouldn't just be enough for me as a fan to see them play just one time."


And that's the point. Connecticut and Tennessee are resoundingly far and away the best two teams in the country and most don't expect either team to lose until March or even April. They have met ranked in the top two spots before, but this season the hype would blow the roof off the gym.


Summitt and Auriemma might try to downplay the rivalry.


"Women's basketball's changed a lot," Auriemma said when asked if the game was a necessity. "Back in the day, they needed that one versus two. I don't know if they need that now. You know if it wasn't us and Tennessee because of our history together people wouldn't be saying 'Hey, you know, it'd be great if one played two'."


Are you buying that? Because I'm not.


I do agree that women's basketball has created far more parity for itself then back in 1995 when the teams first met. But fans of men's basketball wouldn't accept the fact that North Carolina and Duke couldn't play each other every year, and neither should they with UConn-Tennessee.


All the parity, all the great teams and UConn and Tennessee are still the cream of the crop. All it does is highlight the giant void that is missing in their schedules.


Fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Candace Parker vs. Maya Moore will have to wait until a possible meeting in the NCAA Tournament. And even that is unlikely, seeing as the tournament selection committee will almost definitely place the two on opposite sides of the bracket in hopes of them meeting to tear down the nets in Tampa.


"Them not playing will dictate the entire NCAA Tournament," Antonelli explains. "Because they will not play and because we are adamantly interested in seeing it as fans - the public opinion wants them to play and play for it all - so you will have to put them on separate sides of the bracket. So what happens to North Carolina, Maryland, Rutgers, Georgia, LSU, think about those other teams who are all potential Final Four teams.


"Where are you going to put them? If you put Connecticut and Tennessee opposite, who are they going to have to beat to get to the regional final? The steps to get there will get more difficult."


Antonelli uses C. Vivian Stringer and Rutgers as her example for this conundrum. The Scarlet Knights must play Connecticut twice, perhaps three times if they meet in the Big East Tournament. Stringer will not be placed on the same side of the bracket with UConn.


"How many years in a row has Rutgers had to go up against Tennessee to try to advance in the tournament?" Antonelli begs. "Vivian will tell you, she's already started talking about being on Tennessee's side of the bracket."


Because women's basketball does have more parity than "back in the day," it will undoubtedly be much harder for the Huskies and Lady Vols to find each other still standing on April 8 at the St. Pete Times Forum. 


"You know, it wouldn't be bad if at the end of the season is the first time that the No. 1 and No. 2 team in the country play," Auriemma said. "That'd be pretty exciting. If they do it once in the regular season, whoever it is, it's just a regular season game. Kinda like college football - if two undefeated teams play for the national championship, that'd be pretty cool."


Except, in college football they have rivalry games. Florida meets Florida State. Michigan always plays Ohio State.


No, we women's basketball fans are surely saddened at the prospect of such a great beginning to a season dampened because it won't realize its full potential unless its two best teams meet. And they'll only meet if the planets align in just the right way.


But the good news is, if they do align, if the dice fall the right way, then the nation will be in for perhaps the greatest installment in an already great rivalry.


"Now, we have to wait. It builds up anticipation," Antonelli said. "Just imagine if they are playing for the national championship. With the hype and the build and the animosity and the rivalry, it just sets up for a volcano.


"It's a volcano-like game. It's going to be brewing all year and when the volcano erupts, it's going to be hot."