This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
The 2019-20 Lady Vols (11-3, 1-1 SEC) opened conference play with grit in a win against Missouri and in a hard-fought, 80-76 loss to Kentucky (12-2, 1-1 SEC) on Sunday. However, the men’s team continues its struggle to click as point guard Santiago Vescovi works to mesh with his new teammates.
The Vols (8-5, 0-1 SEC) dropped their Southeastern Conference opener to LSU, 78-64, at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. Rick Barnes’ squad faces tough competition ahead, traveling to near equal Missouri (8-5, 0-1 SEC) before facing South Carolina (8-5). Tennessee then travels to Athens to tip off against red hot Georgia (10-3) who beat No. 9 Memphis on the Tigers’ home court on Saturday. The Bulldogs boast the same overall record as conference leader Kentucky (who the Dawgs face Tuesday night).
As basketball season continues with conference play, take a look back at prior battles on the court in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
Jan. 7, 2006
January marks a time when students head back to school and add up equations. Here’s one for 2006: Pat Summitt + No. 1 Lady Vols + Geno Auriemma + No. 7 UConn = one heck of a game.
In front of the largest home crowd to that point, the Lady Vols welcomed (or at least accepted the presence of) the Huskies (12-1 prior to the game) for a top-10 matchup in Thompson-Boling Arena. The Huskies had not lost in Knoxville since 2001 and had only lost to Tennessee once in the past seven match-ups. Tennessee held the advantage in their 15-0 squad, which packed an offensive punch. Sidney Spencer lit up the scoreboard with the hot hand and a career-high 21 points to lead Tennessee to the 89-80 victory.
With 2:44 left on the clock, the score stood with the Lady Vols at a narrow 77-75 lead. But Spencer refused to let the foes from Hartford win on her coach’s court, draining four free throws. Spencer hit five 3-point shots and six field goals in the game.
“Sidney Spencer had the game of her life,” Auriemma said post-game. “They just have way too many weapons.”
Lady Vol legend Candace Parker put 13 points on the board. Parker rolled her left ankle—already fragile after prior injury—in the second half, forcing her to the bench, but she reentered to help her team before fouling out in her first game against UConn. In the first half, Parker swooped in for a dunk, but left the record crowd of 24,653 disappointed as she missed, surrounded by UConn defenders.
But the crowd roared as the No. 1 team in the country took down its archrivals on its home court. Auriemma and his team had been met with a rousing chorus of “boos” upon arrival and left listening to the cacophony of “Rocky Top” and Vol cheers.
“It was electrifying,” Summitt said. “This is a rivalry that is special in women’s basketball on the national scene.”
Later that July, Tennessee asked the SEC to investigate UConn’s women’s basketball program for repeated NCAA rules violations including a confirmed arranged tour of ESPN for a top recruit among other incidents relating to alumni contact. Summitt canceled the historic series between the programs without confronting the issue, but—as per usual—Auriemma had some thoughts.
“She accused us of cheating at recruiting,” he told reporters in 2008. “She doesn’t have the courage to say it publicly. So yeah, Geno does know and I’ve said it.”
The rivalry renews this month as the Lady Vols take on the Huskies in Connecticut. The match-up, slated for Jan. 23 at 7:00 p.m., will not feature former Lady Vol and current UConn guard Evina Westbrook, who had season-ending surgery last week. Her departure left a bitter taste in the mouths of Lady Vol fans who once screamed her name, but fans gladly welcome the rivalry back into rhetoric.
Jan. 7, 2012
Speaking of rivalries, that of Tennessee and Florida affects all common sports at the two institutions. And the men’s basketball team on Rocky Top earned a signature win in that vein of the rivalry as the unranked Vols took down the No. 13 Gators, 67-56, in 2012.
The Vols scored 25 points off the bench. Florida scored one point off the bench. Tennessee shot 51% from the floor. Florida shot 35.7% from the field. Summary: those who make their shots win.
“We did a great job of scoring in the paint,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We shot five threes in the first half, and I thought we played a very effective game, a very efficient game. We were just putting our head down, getting to the lane, and making things happen.”
Junior Kenny Hall posted 13 points while Jeronne Maymon tallied 12, his ninth career game with double-digit figures. Coming off a loss to Memphis, the Vols needed to rebound in this conference opener—the first for Martin. Maymon grabbed seven rebounds to out-grit the Gators.
“It was really good for us to get our confidence back after the loss at Memphis, and I think it was really good for our fans,” Maymon said. “It’s only one game, but we were just trying to start it off strong. Everybody’s record was 0-0, so we were just trying to start over like a new year.”
Trae Golden, who picked up 12 points of his own, noted he thought the only people thinking Tennessee would win that game were the guys in the locker room. Florida certainly failed to anticipate the loss at Thompson-Boling.
The 2019-20 squad faces the foes from Gainesville next month on Feb. 29, Leap Day, at 2:00 p.m. But up next, the Vols face former coach Martin, former player Maymon, and the rest of the current Missouri staff in Columbia at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow night.