MINNEAPOLIS — MINNEAPOLIS -- Since Connecticut beat Tennessee, 77-66, in Storrs, Conn., on Jan. 16 in a sort of heavyweight championship of women's basketball, many have been clamoring for a rematch.
The Division I basketball committee certainly had its eye on that possibility, placing the two teams that shared the top spot in the Associated Press poll in opposite sides of the tournament bracket so they could meet in a championship game that could set a ratings record for women's basketball telecasts.
So, when the third-ranked Lady Vols got past Georgia yesterday and the Huskies beat Stanford in the semifinals, the stage was set for "Connecticut-Tennessee: The Sequel."
"I think it's very fitting that Tennessee and Connecticut are in the finals. Both teams are playing their best ball right now," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "We've been ranked 1 and 2 for most of the season. You folks in the media and all the fans are probably getting what you wanted, so let's see what happens."
Before an ESPN audience and a sold-out Harry Gampel Pavilion, the Huskies earned their first No.1 ranking behind 18 points from center Kara Wolters and 17 from point guard Jennifer Rizzotti.
The Lady Vols, whose only other loss this year was to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference tournament final, were playing their third game in five days when they met Connecticut, and were also without sophomore center Pashen Thompson, the team's best low-post defender.
"They're a lot better team than when we played them in January. I'm sure they'll play a lot better [today] I'm expecting them to," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma.
But the Huskies have played well also, and the play of Wolters, their 6-foot-7 low post threat who had 31 points in yesterday's blowout of Stanford, could be the determining factor.
"The best two teams are playing for the national championship. I don't know if Kara Wolters can keep up this streak. I think it depends if Tennessee has anyone who can stop her," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, whose Cardinal team was humiliated in early December by the Lady Vols.
The Huskies are the first team from above the Mason-Dixon line to play for a title since Cheyney State (Pa.) lost to Louisiana Tech in the first NCAA championship game in 1982.
Stanford sophomore Jamila Wideman came to the Twin Cities with some advance publicity, beyond what she gets as a Cardinal starter.
Wideman's high school team, the Amherst (Mass.) Lady Hurricanes, is the subject of a book, "In These Girls, Hope Is A Muscle," by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Madeline Blais on the 1992-93 season in which the team won the state championship.
On the losing end
Stanford freshman Kristin Folkl, who was a member of a St. Joseph's Academy high school team in St. Louis that won four state basketball titles and four volleyball championships, is used to winning. Also on this year's Stanford volleyball team, which won the NCAA championship, she was on the rare losing side of a match in the Cardinal's loss to Connecticut.
"I have lost before. It's not a good feeling," said Folkl, who was asked how it felt to lose in a championship setting. "It's kind of a stupid question. Out of 300 Division I programs, we're one of the four, and I'm very proud of that."