The historic UConn-Rutgers rivalry isn't history yet
This was going to be the world's first temporary eulogy, commemorating the momentary end of UConn-Rutgers in women's basketball, thanks to the Scarlet Knights' move to the Big Ten.
It turned out that previous hints that the two schools would continue playing became closer to imminent Sunday. UConn senior women's administrator Deb Corum said before the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals that the two long-dueling programs would play again next season. Corum said UConn and Rutgers are negotiating a game likely to be played at either Madison Square Garden or the Barclays Center.
Bravo. Bravissimo. Because this rivalry has been too much fun over the years to go kaput. Don't let UConn's recent dominance fool you. There is history here. Glorious history. Rutgers has made this fun. Some memories:
• UConn coach Geno Auriemma said his favorite Rutgers moment was the night (Feb. 10, 1998) when joyous fans carried Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer off the floor in Piscataway after the Scarlet Knights defeated the Huskies.
This wasn't long after Stringer landed the job and the team's media guide pronounced Rutgers the "Jewel of the East."
"There's 30 seconds left in that game and I'm sitting on the bench. It's over and we're going to lose," Auriemma said Sunday, grinning his way through the recollection. "Someone is shooting free throws at the other end. (Freshman) Linda Miles walks all the way back near us and yells, "Get used to this Geno! Four more years!'
"To this day when I see her (an aspiring official) we laugh," Auriemma said.
It should be noted Rutgers never beat UConn again with Miles there.
• One of the best lines ever uttered about Stringer came after a Big East Tournament game from former Boston Herald writer Mike Shalin:
"I asked Vivian Stringer a question," Shalin said, "and Casey Stengel answered."
Hard not to appreciate Stringer. (Or "CVS" as the fans chant.) Her answers to reporters' questions happen the same way farmers spread fertilizer: all over the place. She melds word spasms with streams of consciousness, narratives and parables in response to probing questions like, "So what about your defense tonight?"
It should be noted that Stringer's opening statement to the media Sunday after near 30-point loss lasted 289 words.
Know this, however: No coach in the history of the game has been more complimentary and deferential to Auriemma and what Connecticut has accomplished.
• UConn's best win in the rivalry came in 1999 with Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Shea Ralph and Amy Duran all injured. A few days earlier, the Huskies lost at Boston College. Next came a road game at Rutgers. We all predicted doom.
"It was typical UConn-Rutgers. Physical. Back in the days when you could foul on every possession," Auriemma said. "We're down one, maybe 10 seconds left. In the huddle, I say to Svet (Svetlana Abrosimova) '(gosh darnit) Sveta, we need a steal right now.' She nods once. No smile, nothing. Just like if the KGB asked someone to murder five people.
"She goes out there, gets a steal and a layup and we win by one," Auriemma said. "I said, 'Damn. That kid is unbelievable.'"
After the game, Abrosimova deadpanned in her endearing Russian accent, "Coach said we needed a steal so I got one." With no smile.
• After the 2005 Big East title game in Hartford, television cameras captured Rutgers guard Cappie Pondexter's animation after the game, directing what appeared to be some unkind words toward Auriemma.
Thirty minutes later, Stringer told a roomful of reporters that Auriemma "made a comment (to Pondexter) unbecoming to any player at any time."
When reporters asked Auriemma if he was aware of Stringer's comments during the formal postgame news conference, Auriemma said, "Vivian has no idea what I said. Zero idea." Pressed further, Auriemma told another reporter that what happened was "none of your business."
The best part: Stringer and Auriemma argued behind the curtain in the press room. Tournament officials jacked up some music over the intercom in the room so we couldn't hear. At least it was Sinatra.
• UConn and Rutgers have played several times with blinding snowstorms outside. The best one came in 2000, the night before Sue Bird's mad dash down court defeated Notre Dame.
UConn and just beaten Rutgers in the second semifinal amid a raging blizzard. The roof leaked during the game. And with dozens of reporters on deadline at midnight, Stringer entered the room and said, "Is there a Chris Elsberry in here?"
Elsberry, a columnist at the Connecticut Post, wrote something Stringer didn't like. So Stringer went on a good 15-minute rant. Elsberry tried to cut her off several times, begging her to take this outside and let the other writers do their jobs. Stringer never broke stride.
So there. Almost 20 years' worth of classics. Here's to 20 more.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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