Column: Renewing the rivalry; Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols

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Speaking positively about Tennessee women’s basketball in Storrs, Connecticut can be a tough task.

In the late 90s and early 2000’s, UConn women’s basketball and the Lady Vols were bitter rivals.

From 1995 to 2007, the two teams collectively won nine national championship titles. The fact that every time UConn won a national championship during that time period they did so by defeating Tennessee (and vice versa) exacerbated the rivalry.

But whatever the consequences, I’m just going to come right out and say it. I am a big Pat Summitt fan. Like, huge. I even have a tattoo with my favorite quote of hers on my shoulder.

Any person who tries to say something negative to me about Summitt and her teams will quickly be shut down.

Summitt was instrumental in increasing the popularity of women’s basketball. Her teams and players were and still are legends. In its prime, the UConn-Tennessee rivalry garnered tons of media interest and made people tune into women’s basketball.

Summitt was 22 when she accepted the head coaching job at the University of Tennessee in 1974. When she retired in 2012, she had won 1,098 games and eight national championships.

Along the way, she coached some of basketball’s best, such as Kara Lawson, Candace Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings. All three of these women have pushed hard for more recognition for women’s basketball and were/are the best in the WNBA. Lawson covers collegiate basketball games for ESPN along with UConn’s Rebecca Lobo. Parker was the first overall draft pick in the 2008 WNBA draft and became the league’s MVP in her rookie season. In 2016, she led the Los Angeles Sparks to a finals win and was named the finals MVP.

Catchings won two national championships under Summitt and won the WNBA championship in 2012, along with being named the finals MVP. Holdsclaw was the first overall pick in the 1999 WNBA draft. She later became an advocate for mental illness and even came to UConn in 2016 to hold a talk.

In 2011, Summitt was diagnosed with early onset dementia. She handed over the reins of The Lady Vols to assistant coach Holly Warlick.

After Summitt’s departure, Tennessee became less of a powerhouse. One notable graduate, however, was Diamond DeShields who transferred to Tennessee after playing a year at North Carolina. DeShields was selected third in the 2018 WNBA draft and currently plays for the Chicago Sky.

While the rivalry between the Huskies and The Lady Vols has cooled off in the last decade, the recent announcement that the two will play each other in 2020 has sparked interest and renewed the flame.

Both teams also announced that a portion of ticket sales will be donated to the Pat Summitt Foundation in honor of Summitt, who passed away from early onset dementia in 2016.

Rivalries are good for sports. They bring intrigue and lots of drama. They make people tune in. UConn versus Tennessee was a hit in the past and I’m sure it will be a hit again. Now, hopefully we can get Lawson and Lobo to call that game together and see if they are still friends by the end…


Mariana Dominguez is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at mariana.dominguez@uconn.edu.

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