Takeaways from resumption of Connecticut-Tennessee rivalry

Women’s basketball’s greatest duel is back

In a moment 13 years in the making, Tennessee took on Connecticut at the XL Center in Hartford Thursday night, resuming women’s basketball’s defining rivalry.

After a rough start, Connecticut asserted itself defensively, and routed the Lady Vols, 60-45.

“Well, it always feels good to beat a good team… the rivalry will never be what it was, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be something new,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said immediately following the game.

So what did we learn?

Aubrey Griffin

Early on, Olivia Nelson-Ododa committed a pair of fouls. Typically, this removes Connecticut’s best rim protector, and thus a vital component to their defense.

But Aubrey Griffin entered, and quickly found herself playing the game at a speed and athleticism she found comfortable.

Lest you think this was merely about her tools, consider the way she read the opposing player here in this one-on-one defensive scenario.

By the half, Griffin had collected eight points, two rebounds, two steals, a block and an assist. Auriemma started Nelson-Ododa, but to start the second half? It was Griffin. And she rewarded him instantly, with a quick bucket and another steal to give Connecticut the lead early in the third quarter. She finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, five steals, and countless big plays all night.

“Aubrey really was unbelievable. She changed the complexion of this game,” Auriemma said.

The broad-based game is going to make Griffin a huge star, eventually. This season, though? She’s already a difference-maker.

Get used to Tennessee’s defense

Last season, a flawed Tennessee team finished 199th in defensive efficiency. That’s a crazy stat for a team with championship aspirations, let alone one with a history that includes Pat Summitt and Tamika Catchings.

This year? Seventh.

Tennessee has no shortage of offensive firepower, but what makes them so difficult is that Kellie Harper can send waves of players at opponents to get steals, deflections, and turn this into a track meet filled with mistakes.

There was an interesting discussion in our internal Slack channel about who is Tennessee’s best player. And there are plenty of reasonable answers, Rennia Davis probably first among those cases.

But the real answer, as it relates to Tennessee’s ceiling, is a swarming collective. And that’s the team that traveled to Hartford Thursday.

They committed 15 turnovers by the half! And yet they led. They finished with 26 turnovers for the game. That’s who Tennessee is, a team defined by their defense. That’s some solace on a night the Lady Vols simply didn’t execute on the offensive end.

Tennessee’s own… Crystal Dangerfield

The UConn Huskies simply aren’t deep enough in offensive threats for Crystal Dangerfield to be as quiet as she sometimes has been in UConn’s less-stellar wins and losses this season. Dangerfield, who was Connecticut’s first recruit from the state of Tennessee, came out aggressively looking for her own shot, scoring eight in the opening period on four shots. In a period long on individual play (the Huskies had a single assist in the period) and more turnovers than Geno Auriemma would have liked (five in the first alone), Dangerfield’s early outburst ensured that the Huskies ended the first quarter within shouting distance, trailing 16-14.

On a night when Christyn Williams uncharacteristically struggled early on, missing her first six shot attempts, Dangerfield did what was necessary to keep her team in the game. Williams rallied, of course. But without Dangerfield’s early outburst, it might not have mattered.

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