Commentary

They meet again -- sort of

UConn, Tennessee won't meet -- but we'll take just having them in the same place

Originally Published: November 16, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Having Tennessee and UConn in the same place without having them meet on the court is like inviting two people who can't stand each other to a dinner party and forcing them to pretend the other isn't there.

Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma
AP Photo/Wade PayneJust having Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma in the same venue makes for intriguing storylines.

Great fun, isn't it?

On Tuesday, at the ESPN Classic doubleheader at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, the city that hosts this season's Women's Final Four, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt will try to ignore UConn coach Geno Auriemma. But he might not return the favor. He might throw a barb or two at his longtime nemesis, who decided after the 2007 season not to renew the series between the programs whose rivalry became the sport's centerpiece.

They were both at the 2008 Final Four in Tampa, Fla., but Stanford's semifinal win over UConn prevented what would have been a deliciously acrimonious showdown in the national championship game.

And they won't face off Tuesday, either, of course. Tennessee starts the action against Texas Tech (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET), followed by UConn vs. Texas (ESPN2, 9:30 p.m. ET).

Texas coach Gail Goestenkors perhaps will be forced into the role of "Greek chorus," commenting on the non-clash of the titans. The longtime coach at Duke, Goestenkors now carries the burnt-orange banner of the Longhorns. She, Auriemma and Summitt all had teams in San Antonio in 2002, at the first go-round of the Final Four in the Alamo City.

Goestenkors' "eight is enough" Duke squad fell in the semifinals to Oklahoma, and Tennessee got roughed up 79-56 by a UConn team that went on to beat the Sooners and finish a perfect season.

After losing to that mesmerizing UConn group of Sue Bird, Tamika Williams, Diana Taurasi, Asjha Jones and Swin Cash, Summitt actually visited the Huskies' locker room to congratulate them on how well they had played.

It seemed an unlikely -- albeit very gracious -- display of "truce" even back then. Now, it's hard to believe it ever happened. There's probably a better chance that Rush Limbaugh and Nancy Pelosi would have a long heart-to-heart over lattes than for Summitt or Auriemma to cross the door of the other's domain again.

As Whitney Houston might have sung, Pat and Geno had their "one moment in time": just after that 2002 semifinal when Summitt shared with Auriemma her admiration of his team.

"What she said to me after the game is going to stay between the two of us," Auriemma said then, "but it says a lot about the character Pat Summitt has."

Alas, that was before a hostile recruiting battle over Maya Moore. Plus, Summitt's perhaps reaching her limit on Geno's jokes.

On Sunday at the Tip-Off Classic in Knoxville, the 2010 Hall of Fame inductees were introduced. UConn's Rebecca Lobo was one of them, and a few boos from the student section at Thompson-Boling Arena mixed in with a lot of cheers.

Most of those in the student section probably are not old enough to remember seeing the Lobo-led Huskies beat Tennessee in the NCAA title game 14 years ago. But the kids know what the rivalry is now: bitter, even with no head-to-head matchup.

Oh, and it's worth mentioning that Texas and Texas Tech -- who will play each other twice in the Big 12 regular season -- are not exactly best buddies, either. That rivalry always has been fierce among fans of the two Lone Star State programs, although longtime coaches Jody Conradt and Marsha Sharp always kept a publicly civil and even (usually) cordial front.

Goestenkors, in her third season at Texas, and Kristy Curry, in her fourth at Texas Tech, actually still seem more linked to rivalries in their former conferences -- the ACC and the Big Ten, respectively -- than they do yet to anything in the Big 12.

But, hey, give them more time. Just look how the Summitt-Auriemma rivalry got more rancorous as it aged -- and how white-hot it will be if they really do meet in April at the Alamodome.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.