The Tennessee and Connecticut coaches smiled, hugged and agreed to play again next year in Tennessee.
But don’t get the wrong idea. The most famous series in women’s basketball isn’t scheduled for a renewal.
UT coach Holly Warlick and UConn coach Geno Auriemma were just responding to a question about how much they would like to meet again next April in Nashville, site of the Final Four.
Naturally, the collective response was something like: “That would be great.”
The programs haven’t played since 2007 when former UT coach Pat Summitt, miffed over UConn’s recruiting tactics, canceled the series. However, Warlick and Auriemma seemed genuinely happy to see each other here Saturday as they co-hosted a reception to raise funds for the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Auriemma also was here on behalf of former UConn point guard Jennifer Rizzotti, one of the six new hall of fame inductees. It was the first time they had been together in Knoxville in 17 years.
There was enough time in between for a dynasty.
Their first visit was significant, too. UConn handed Tennessee its first home-court loss in five years.
But neither that victory nor the Huskies’ win over UT a year earlier in the national championship game
prepared you for what was coming.
Auriemma has since won seven more national titles to tie Summitt’s record eight.
“To win the national championship, then to come down here after Rebecca (Lobo) had graduated — for us to win that game down here after they had won like 69 in a row (on their home floor) — the initial reaction was ‘if you can do that, you can do a lot of things.’
“We knew we were good and we knew we were gonna be good, but we never envisioned it would get to this point.”
It has come to this: seven national championships in 14 years and a 282-22 record for the past eight seasons. Along the way, Connecticut has surpassed Tennessee as the sport’s marquee program, and Auriemma has achieved almost Summitt-like status.
In the midst of their heated rivalry, much was made of the differences between the two. Similarities also are apparent, though.
Chattanooga coach Jim Foster, another hall of fame inductee, coached against Summitt at Vanderbilt and gave Auriemma his first college coaching job, as a Saint Joseph’s assistant.
“Both have an attention to detail,” Foster said. “Both are thoroughly confident in their way of play.
“They’re very similar in that they’re comfortable in the big moments. A lot of coaches aren’t as comfortable in that environment.”
Rizzotti, who now coaches Hartford, sees another similarity.
“What struck me about them is the standard they held their players to as people and competitors,” she said. “Different players go to UConn than Tennessee. But as far as the discipline they’re learning and the life skills they’re learning, there are a lot of the same qualities being taught.”
They’re also taught something about winning. Summitt won 1,098 games in 38 seasons; Auriemma, 839 in 28 seasons.
UConn will be favored to win back-to-back national titles next season. UT should be a consensus top-four pick.
Both programs going for a ninth national championship in Nashville would make for a great reunion.