NCAAW what to watch: UConn-Tennessee rivalry returns, but will it continue past 2021?

·7 min read

Wipe out your Thursday night plans because there’s a big women’s basketball schedule on the docket.

The rivalry between Connecticut and Tennessee has gotten all of the attention this week, but it’s far from the only feature game. Newly minted No. 1 Louisville will have its first test with the ranking against No. 23 Syracuse, which upset the Cardinals last February.

Ranked teams are also squaring off in the Big Ten and SEC on Thursday, with a ranked matchup of Pac-12 teams following on Friday night.

Will UConn-Tennessee series continue past Thursday?

No. 3 UConn (8-0, 7-0 Big East) will play No. 25 Tennessee (9-2, 3-1 SEC) in Knoxville for the first time since 2006. The game tips at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

The two old rivals renewed their series last season with a home-and-home to raise money for the Pat Summitt Foundation. UConn won with ease, 60-45, in a down year for Tennessee, which changed coaches in the offseason. The Huskies are 14-9 all-time in the series.

It is the last game between the rivals for the foreseeable future, though both coaches appeared willing to extend the series.

“Yeah, I think we definitely have interest there," Tennessee coach Kellie Harper, who played during the series as a Lady Vol from 1995-99, said Tuesday via ESPN. “I think we'd have to talk through logistics and what that would look like, but we're definitely willing to have those conversations.”

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said it relies mostly on Harper and Tennessee since he’s “always up for playing anybody, anywhere, anytime.”

“Not everybody likes to play really good teams,” Auriemma said after passing legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt on the all-time wins list on Tuesday. “So the fact that Kellie wants to do that is a great thing, and it says a lot about Kellie. So, yeah, is it possible that we would play Tennessee either next year or the year after, whenever schedule-wise, it works for both of us? Yeah, it's really possible.

“It takes two people that want to do it. I'm always up for playing anybody, anywhere, anytime. If Kellie's up for it, I'm sure it will happen. And you could be sure even more it will happen because of how few people really want to play in those games.”

The rivalry from 1995 and 2007 was made in part by the antics of Auriemma and Summitt, who died in 2016 after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia in 2011. Its height was during the Huskies climb to powerhouse status next to the Lady Vols. UConn has 11 NCAA titles and Tennessee has eight.

UConn freshman Paige Bueckers will be one to watch in what will be UConn’s most-hyped game played so far.

The full schedule for the NCAA women’s basketball weekend is here and notable matchups are detailed below. All games are updated as of Wednesday.

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, left, talks with Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper before of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, left, talks with Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper before of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

No. 11 Michigan (10-0, 5-0 Big Ten) at No. 17 Ohio State (7-1, 3-1)

Thursday, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network

TEAM CATCH UP: Michigan has its highest ranking ever and will get a rivalry matchup with Ohio State to try and keep it. The Wolverines allowed a season-low 40 points to Wisconsin in their last outing.

Ohio State is coming off a roller-coaster week. The team first snapped Iowa’s home winning streak in overtime, then lost by eight to unranked Nebraska.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The game pits the top two field-goal percentage defenses in the Big Ten against each other (Ohio State at .347, Michigan at .349).

Michigan junior Naz Hillmon is one of the best scorers in the nation at 23.70 points per game (ranking 12th in NCAA Division I). Sensational freshman Caitlin Clark of Iowa (25.75 ppg) is the only player averaging more in the Big Ten. Hillmon averages 11.9 rebounds per game, ranking seventh in the nation, and is a consistent force for the Wolverines.

No. 22 Georgia (12-1, 4-1 SEC) at No. 4 South Carolina (10-1, 5-0 SEC)

Thursday, 6:30 p.m. SEC Network

TEAM CATCH-UP: Georgia worked its way back into the Top 25 for the first time in two seasons days after a one-point win over Tennessee. The game against South Carolina is rescheduled from Jan. 7, and precedes a Monday matchup against No. 15 Arkansas.

South Carolina is coming off a win over Arkansas that the Gamecocks made look easy.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Aliyah Boston is one of the most exciting players to watch and showed it against Arkansas on the same day the school unveiled its statue of former great A’ja Wilson. She had 26 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks and three assists while reaching her fifth double-double of the season by halftime. She’s averaging 14.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and has potential for triple doubles almost any night out.

The Bulldogs are a squad based on depth, which will come in useful against South Carolina’s talented squad of top recruits. They’re looking to avenge two blowouts against the Gamecocks last season.

No. 23 Syracuse (7-1, 4-1 ACC) at No. 1 Louisville (12-0, 5-0 ACC)

Thursday, 9 p.m. ESPN2

TEAM CATCHUP: Louisville is playing its first game in program history as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. Syracuse will play its third of four games over an eight-day span after a month-long layoff because of COVID-19 positives in the program. The Orange upset Louisville, then ranked fifth, in February 2020 though the Cardinals trounced Syracuse in the ACC tournament.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Dana Evans, the 5-foot-6 senior guard for Louisville, is averaging 19.4 points on 48.6 percent shooting. She adds 4.2 assists per game. Freshman guard Hailey Van Lith has already made an impact averaging 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Syracuse guard Tiana Mangakahia looks more confident in her game and took over the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s win over North Carolina. The WNBA prospect had 19 points and 13 assists while shooting 3-for-5 from 3-point range. Kiara Lewis creates a one-two punch at guard. The Orange’s freshmen, Priscilla Williams and Kamilla Cardoso, are key contributors and will determine how far Syracuse goes in the ACC.

Washington State (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) at No. 13 Oregon (9-3, 7-3 Pac-12)

Friday, 8 p.m. Pac-12 Network

QUICK HIT: Washington State fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll the week after it made its historic entrance. That doesn’t mean the Cougars won’t give Pac-12 foe Oregon a tight game. The Ducks have lost three of their last four with their only win a 100-41 victory over Cal (0-11, 0-8).

No. 6 UCLA (8-2, 6-2 Pac-12) at No. 5 Stanford (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12)

Friday, 10 p.m. Pac-12 Network

QUICK HIT: Stanford lost to an unranked opponent as the No. 1 team in the country for the second time in as many years. The Cardinal’s first game back from that will be UCLA, which is trying to move up the Pac-12 standings. The Bruins are currently third behind Stanford and Arizona.

No. 16 Indiana (8-3, 6-1 Big Ten) at No. 21 Northwestern (7-2, 5-2)

Sunday, 12 p.m. ESPN2

QUICK HIT: The Big Ten continues to lead all Division I conferences in scoring (76.0 ppg), per the NCAA. Indiana averages 76.1 ppg and has the conference’ best scoring defense, allowing 55.6 ppg. Northwestern is behind Indiana at 74.7 ppg and ranks fourth in scoring defense (59.2). It should be a well-matched contest.

Mackenzie Holmes is averaging 17.6 points per game for Indiana and shooting 57.7 percent while Grace Berger leads the conference in assists (6.2).

No. 12 Kentucky (10-3, 3-2 SEC) at No. 25 Tennessee (9-2, 3-1 SEC)

Sunday, 2 p.m. ESPN2

QUICK HITS: Kentucky was without three players against Vanderbilt — which has since ended its season — because of COVID-10 restrictions. The Wildcats also didn’t have national player of the year favorite Rhyne Howard due to an injured ankle. Howard is averaging 20.4 ppg and is “day-to-day,” per Kentucky’s athletic department.

Howard dropped 37 points on the Lady Vols in their first meeting last season and 24 in the second.

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