Tennessee, UConn open to extending women's basketball series beyond 2021

Tennessee women's basketball coach Kellie Harper said Tuesday she would be open to extending the series with UConn past this year.

"Yeah, I think we definitely have interest there," Harper said. "I think we'd have to talk through logistics and what that would look like, but we're definitely willing to have those conversations."

After his team's 103-35 victory over Butler on Tuesday night, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he was glad to hear that because he thinks there aren't a lot of teams who want to face the Huskies.

"Not everybody likes to play really good teams," Auriemma said. "So the fact that Kellie wants to do that is a great thing, and it says a lot about Kellie. So, yeah, is it possible that we would play Tennessee either next year or the year after, whenever schedule-wise, it works for both of us? Yeah, it's really possible.

"It takes two people that want to do it. I'm always up for playing anybody, anywhere, anytime. If Kellie's up for it, I'm sure it will happen. And you could be sure even more it will happen because of how few people really want to play in those games."

Then Auriemma jokingly said it might depend on the reception he gets from Lady Vol fans when the No. 3 Huskies meet No. 25 Tennessee on Thursday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) in their first trip to Knoxville since 2006.

"If you guys are nice to me, I'll come back down and you can yell at me all that you want," he said, laughing. "But be nice to me this time."

UConn has won 11 NCAA titles and Tennessee eight. The UConn-Tennessee series, which began in 1995, was the premiere matchup in women's basketball until 2007, when then-Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt opted to end the series. The teams haven't met in the NCAA tournament since the 2004 national championship game.

The series resumed with games in Connecticut last season and Tennessee this season, with fundraising for the Pat Summitt Foundation being an impetus for playing each other again. Summitt died in 2016 after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, in 2011.

On Monday, Auriemma had said he wasn't sure if the series would continue and that he questions whether the matchup is even "a big deal" anymore.

"We didn't sell out the game last year, so how big a deal is it?" he said. "We probably sold out every Notre Dame game we played in the last 10 years."

Harper, who also played in the series during her Tennessee career from 1995 to 1999, said she still thinks it is a big deal.

"We're really excited about Thursday and really looking forward to the game," she said. "I think a lot of people are. Should be a lot of fun. I think a lot of people work hard to make this a big game for women's basketball nationwide. People tune in, and hopefully they'll do so on Thursday."