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Diana Taurasi: Pat Summitt was the 'blueprint' that paved way for UConn

Diana Taurasi and UConn beat archrival Tennessee in back-to-back NCAA championship games in 2003 and '04. Jay L. Clendenin/Getty Images

When thinking about former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's impact, you don't normally consider how she affected players from archrival UConn. But she certainly did.

Diana Taurasi went 7-1 against the Lady Vols, including winning all three of her NCAA tournament meetings with them: in the 2002 semifinals, and the 2003 and 2004 championship games. As UConn coach Geno Auriemma's on-court alter ego, Taurasi relished being loathed by Tennessee fans.

Asked recently about her emotions in June 2016 when Summitt passed away from the effects of early-onset dementia, Taurasi was reflective.

"There is no UConn dynasty without Pat and what she did with Tennessee, because they were the most dominant program, and she was the blueprint."

Diana Taurasi on Pat Summitt

"I was devastated, really sad and upset," Taurasi said. "For her family, obviously, and for everyone who had a closer personal relationship with her. A lot of my friends played for her. And to see how they were affected lets you know how important a figure she was, off the court as much as on the court."

The UConn-Tennessee rivalry ended in 2007 and hasn't resumed. The images remain vivid, particularly from the Taurasi era: Her punching the basketball stanchion at Tennessee as a sophomore in 2002, a gesture not of frustration but alpha competitiveness. Her holding up the front of her jersey to highlight "UConn" after beating Tennessee for the 2003 national championship.

Taurasi, thinking back to her college-aged mindset, said of the rivalry, "When I was in it, I was in the belly of the beast. I felt like I was unable to tip my hat to her, or give her the honor and respect she deserved, because I was so immersed in trying to beat them and be better than them.

"But Connecticut doesn't get to where they are right now without her. People talk about opinions and fact? That's a fact: There is no UConn dynasty without Pat and what she did with Tennessee, because they were the most dominant program, and she was the blueprint.

"And it wasn't easy to get to where UConn got; there was just this mental hurdle you had to get over when you played Tennessee. You could feel their presence when they came into the gym. Those games brought the best out of everyone."