In news that should surprise no one, Geno Auriemma has taken a shot at the Lady Vols program.
During the second annual Huskies Coaches Road Show, Auriemma met with the media and was asked about bringing in former Lady Vol guard Evina Westbrook as a transfer and the renewal of the UConn-Tennessee rivalry next season. Auriemma, ever the nemesis of Tennessee, didn’t pass up the opportunity to make a dig at the Lady Vols.
“It’s a different world,” Auriemma said according to Jeff Jacobs of CTPost. “I never understood the big to-do about us playing Tennessee again. With all the teams we play and who we have played the last x number of years, it just doesn’t seem the same. Yeah, the name is the same but nothing else is the same.
“It’s almost like they’re any other school now.”
Tennessee and UConn haven’t played in women’s basketball since 2007. The two programs have gone in completely different directions since their last match-up on January 6, 2007, too.
Since the last time the Lady Vols and Huskies have played, Tennessee won back-to-back national titles in 2007 and 2008, but they’ve failed to make it past the Elite Eight since that 2008 championship and just suffered a historically bad season last year. UConn, meanwhile, made it to the Elite Eight in 2007 and the Final Four in 2008 then went on to win six national titles in the next eight years. The Huskies have made it to the Final Four the last three seasons.
When the two rivals last played, they were both in the spotlight of women’s hoops. Tennessee was the No. 1 team in the country in 2006 when the two teams played, and UConn was ranked seventh. When UConn and UT played in 2007, the Lady Vols were No. 4 and UConn was No. 5.
The two will play again starting this upcoming season, and the match-up won’t have the same hype or significance as the last time. UConn will likely be a top-five team, but the Lady Vols might be just inside the top 25.
Still, the Lady Vols have a history that isn’t comparable to any other women’s basketball program. They may have fallen in recent years, but the prestige at Tennessee is still greater than the vast majority of women’s hoops programs.
That wasn’t all Auriemma had to say, though.
UConn’s head coach was asked about taking in former Lady Vol guard Evina Westbrook as a transfer, specifically about her comments after Tennessee’s season came to an end. Westbrook said after UT’s loss to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that “steps need to be taken” with Tennessee off the court and with their coaching staff.
Auriemma says he’s spoken with Westbrook about those comments.
“Kids say things all the time,” Auriemma stated. “Coaches say things all the time. I wasn’t there. I know Holly really well. I don’t presume to know how that all went down. I’m not going to make any decision based on that. She knows the way she handled that probably wasn’t the best way to handle it. We talked about it, and she knows that.”
It remains to be seen if Westbrook will be eligible to play for UConn this season and if she’ll have the opportunity to play against her old team when the Lady Vols head up to Connecticut. If she does, that will add some more fireworks to what already promises to be a hyped up match-up.
The Lady Vols are 9-13 all-time against UConn, but Tennessee holds a three-game winning streak over the Huskies. No. 10 Tennessee defeated No. 15 UConn 68-67 on January 8, 2005, No. 1 Tennessee beat No. 7 UConn 89-80 on January 7, 2006, and the No. 4 Lady Vols beat No. 5 UConn 70-64 on January 6, 2007.