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Women: UConn putting dents in Tennessee's supremacy

The Vols remain history's dominant women's basketball team, but the Huskies have ruled of late.

EMILY NIPPS
Published April 8, 2004

NEW ORLEANS - For a team that still reigns as the most dominant in women's basketball history, Tennessee is somewhat of a lame duck.

After losing 70-61 to Connecticut in Tuesday's NCAA Championship, the Volunteers still own the most titles with six. They also have appeared in 15 Final Fours, more than any other team, men or women. And coach Pat Summitt still has the highest winning percentage (.833) in the NCAA tournament, with UConn coach Geno Auriemma (.828) close behind.

Yet few can dispute the Huskies' Tuesday night claim that when it comes to who truly dominates, the Vols need to scoot over.

"Tennessee's been great for so long and as a little kid, that's the team everyone looked at," said UConn guard Diana Taurasi, who was named most outstanding player of the tournament.

"I mean, I think we made it. I think we're the top program out there. I don't care what anyone says anymore."

In national championship games, UConn is 5-0. The Huskies have won three straight titles, tying Tennessee's record.

Moreover, the Huskies are 4-0 against Tennessee in title games, 5-1 in the Final Four and 13-6 overall. UConn may not eclipse Tennessee in the record books yet, but it's certainly well on its way.

Auriemma, who has not-so-lovingly dubbed Tennessee the "Evil Empire" and shares a chilly relationship with Summitt, insists that taking over the Vols' top spot is not what the Huskies are about.

"I don't know that somebody's going to say, "Who is the best basketball program in America?"' he said. "Like there's only room for one. I don't buy that. I don't feel this need to be "the' program, and everyone else is second."

Besides, he said, tides turn. Tennessee might have recruited better this year, signing several top incoming freshmen including Candace Parker, who recently defeated some of the nation's top male high-schoolers in a dunk contest.

"We're obviously excited," Tennessee sophomore guard Shanna Zolman said. "We have a great recruiting class coming in. Everybody knows about them."

Junior forward Shyra Ely also is looking ahead. "It's going to be a challenge, leading a group of six freshmen," she said. "But I think we can take care of it."

Connecticut will return Barbara Turner, Jessica Moore and Ann Strother to its starting lineup. Losing Taurasi will hurt, but Auriemma has a knack for turning high school standouts into stars.

After Tuesday night, Auriemma is simply enjoying the feeling of being at the top. The UConn women are sharing glory with the men for becoming the first pair to win national titles in the same sport in the same season.

Next season, of course, the pressure is on. Tennessee will be waiting, and Auriemma knows it.

"I'm comfortable with where we are and I'm comfortable with Tennessee being right there where they are," he said. "I would be comfortable in the next couple of years if they start winning championships and we finish second, because that's the nature of this game.

"This is our run. This is our time right now. When they won three in a row and we didn't get to the finals, it was their time. It changed for them, and it's going to change for us."

The Vols have faith that is true. They still believe they are the best at the game, the most prestigious program. They still wear the crown in tons of statistical categories, some which appear untouchable.

For now, though, that's all history.

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