The NCAA women’s basketball bracket 2011 has Connecticut back in the Final Four. But the bracket now has them facing Big East rival Notre Dame, instead of renewing a greater women’s basketball rivalry. When the tournament was put together, it looked like Connecticut and Tennessee would be set to face off in the national semifinals. That would have been a major event, given their history – and how it abruptly ended.
The Volunteers dominated the sport for some time, until the Huskies emerged as a powerhouse in 1995. That season, Connecticut won two major clashes against Tennessee, including the national championship game, to complete their first perfect season. For the next decade, they met pretty much every year, and sometimes in the NCAA tournament.
But in 2007, for reasons that still remain unknown, Pat Summit and Geno Auriemma brought an end to their annual battles. At the time, the Volunteers were the dominant power in the sport again, but since then, the Huskies have put together their greatest dynasty of all.
Nowadays, there is an even greater hole in the game, without this kind of rivalry. Connecticut has been pretty much unchallenged in the last three years, with few teams to really push them like Tennessee used to. Meanwhile, the Volunteers have taken a step back, having missed the Final Four three years running.
This year’s bracket seemed all set to bring them back together, right up until Monday night. But the Volunteers fell short of fulfilling their end, losing to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. They had already been tested by Marquette and Ohio State, so perhaps it wasn’t a huge surprise that they crumbled. Yet it left one less much-needed challenger for Connecticut in the Final Four.
The Irish are facing the Huskies for the fourth time this year, so perhaps they are due to put up a fight. However, their game has far less intrigue to it than a Connecticut-Tennessee matchup would have had. Yet since they’ve gone so long without facing each other, even a reunion might not have had the same juice anymore.
The closest thing to an epic rivalry in women’s basketball may be Connecticut vs Stanford these days. The Cardinal came close to knocking the Huskies off in last year’s title game, and finally did it in December. As the only team to beat them in three years – and one of the few to stay close to them – they are the clear No. 2 right now.
In this current era, the Cardinal are a more fitting rival for the Huskies than the Volunteers right now. And with Tennessee and Baylor out of the bracket, Connecticut and Stanford will be more heavily favored to meet in another title game. But if their rivalry is to reach the heights of the Huskies-Volunteers days, the Cardinal will need to win a title at some point, if not this year.
ESPN.com- “NCAA Tournament Bracket – 2011”
SI.com- “UConn, Tennessee end rivalry”
San Francisco Chronicle- “Stanford’s senior hope 4’th time’s the charm”