With how conference realignment shook out, Connecticut was one of the schools left behind when the Big East fractured earlier this decade. This left the women’s basketball program in Storrs in the American Athletic, a conference it has thoroughly dominated since its inception.
The Huskies have remained one of, if not the premier program in the sport, though, and have used the non-conference portion of the schedule to play some of the best the country has to offer. The team’s non-conference slate for the upcoming season was released earlier this summer, and yet again, it’s absolutely loaded to form what Connecticut Athletics called its “best home schedule in program history.”
UConn will host all three of the other Final Four qualifiers from a season ago – Baylor, Notre Dame and Oregon – with the games spread out through the year.
First, Connecticut will welcome former Big East foe Notre Dame to Gampel Pavilion on Dec. 8 in the renewal of one of the sport’s best rivalries. The most recent edition of this series was playing in the 2019 Final Four on April 5 as the Fighting Irish managed an 81-76 victory to compete for the national championship. This will be the sixth season in a row these two programs match up against one another in early December, continuing their fierce series.
Although Notre Dame has won two of the last three meetings, both of which came in the Final Four, the Irish haven’t beat the Huskies in the regular season since March 12, 2013. This chance is as good as any to end that drought.
Baylor will come to the XL Center on Jan. 9 in a matchup between two of the most storied teams the sport has to offer. The Lady Bears are the reigning national champions, and although Kalani Brown has moved on to the WNBA, Lauren Cox, Juicy Landrum, DiDi Richards and others are back to help formulate another Final Four-caliber roster. The game against Connecticut will no doubt grab attention in the basketball world.
Finally, Oregon travels to Gampel Pavilion on Feb. 3 for a late-season meeting between one of the most established programs in the sport and one of the latest newcomers onto the nation scene. The Ducks reached their first Final Four last year, a official statement that this team is to be taken seriously in the national landscape after back-to-back Elite Eights. Most of the faces from last campaign are back, most notably Sabrina Ionescu, who will be one of the best players in the nation next season.
But that’s not all: Tennessee will also come north to Connecticut as the two greatest programs in women’s college basketball meet for the first time since 2007. When the teams meet in Storrs on Jan. 23, it will be the first half of a home-and-home that will conclude in Knoxville in 2021. Some of the money raised from both matchups will go to the Pat Summitt Foundation in recognition of the legendary Tennessee coach.
From 1995 to 2007, when these teams played regularly, they gobbled up nine of the 13 available national championships – five for UConn and four for Tennessee – and four times they met each other in the title game. The series ended following a dispute about Maya Moore’s recruitment, leading to this quote from Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma:
“I think she should just come out and say she’s not playing us because she hates my guts,” he told the Hartford Courant about Summitt. “And I think people would buy that. Then everyone [who seeks a reason] would be happy. She should just say that [Geno is] a dope, smart-ass and then everyone could say that they agree with her.”
Needless to say, having these two teams on the same court again will be quite the treat, even if Tennessee’s program is currently not what it used to be.
There are plenty of other highlights on this schedule, including a trip to Columbus to battle Ohio State (Nov. 24), away dates at former Big East opponents Seton Hall (Dec. 4 or 5) and DePaul (Dec. 16) and the season-opener at home against California (Nov. 10). Additionally, the Huskies will play South Carolina as the series between the two was extended in May to go a couple seasons beyond 2020. The date of the game is yet to be determined.