UConn-Tennessee: Ranking the 10 best players in the women's basketball rivalry

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Many of the most accomplished players in women's basketball history wore Tennessee orange or UConn blue. But not all of them got the chance to compete in the rivalry between the schools from 1995 to 2007. Those who did say there was nothing quite like it in their college or pro careers.

With the series resuming for at least two more games starting Thursday in Hartford, Connecticut (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App), we look back at the standouts from the 22 games between the Huskies and Lady Vols.

A nine-person ESPN panel, including two analysts who played in the series -- UConn's Rebecca Lobo and Tennessee's Tamika Catchings -- reviewed the stats and which players had the biggest impact. Here's our ranking of the 10 players who performed best in the UConn-Tennessee rivalry.

1. Diana Taurasi, UConn guard (2000-04)

Series stats: 7-1 vs. Tennessee, averaging 21.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists

Highlights: From the spinning layup she hit in her first game against Tennessee to closing her college career with an NCAA title game victory over the Lady Vols, Taurasi was UT's worst nightmare. Her only loss to Tennessee came in the second meeting between the teams during her freshman season in February 2001. In UConn's perfect 2001-02 season, she had 32 points in a January win, the game in which she punched the basket stanchion at Thompson-Boling Arena out of the desire to hit "something orange." She had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in the NCAA semifinals.

The next season, she put two more daggers into orange hearts. First, in a January 2003 victory, she hit both the shot to force overtime and the game winner. Then she had a masterpiece in the 2003 NCAA final, with 28 points. In the 2004 NCAA final, she had 17 points and beat Tennessee again for a championship. Coach Geno Auriemma wrote of Taurasi, "There's one undeniable quality about Diana, and it's that she is fearless." -- Mechelle Voepel

Where is she now? Taurasi plays for the Phoenix Mercury, with whom she has won three WNBA titles. She has four Olympic gold medals and will attempt to make the U.S. team again this summer.

2. Chamique Holdsclaw, Tennessee forward (1995-99)

Series stats: 4-2 vs. UConn, averaging 22.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.8 steals

Highlights: She had the highest scoring average of anyone in the series and beat the Huskies twice on the way to NCAA titles. As a freshman in an overtime victory in the 1996 national semifinals, Holdsclaw had 13 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. In the 1997 NCAA Elite Eight, with UConn unbeaten and Tennessee with 10 losses, the Lady Vols upset the Huskies behind Holdsclaw's 21 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists.

UConn's Swin Cash was a freshman and Holdsclaw a senior when the teams met in January 1999 in Connecticut. Cash recalled that a Huskies teammate went for a layup, and "Chamique came out of nowhere and, like, literally punched the ball off the glass, and it flew back the other way. It was the craziest block I had ever seen. And I was like, 'Man, this is real. This is intense.'" -- Mechelle Voepel

Where is she now? Holdsclaw played 11 seasons in the WNBA and won an Olympic gold medal in 2000. Now she is an advocate and speaker for mental health awareness.

3. Sue Bird, UConn guard (1998-2002)

Series stats: 5-2 vs. Tennessee, averaging 14.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.4 steals

Highlights: She had the best assist average of any player in the series. Bird missed the Tennessee game her freshman year due to a knee injury. But her debut in the series was huge: In January 2000, she scored 25 points in a victory at Tennessee.

Her junior season, she hit the winning free throws in the final minute to clinch a December 2000 victory in Hartford, finishing with 15 points.

As a senior in a 2002 Final Four victory, she had 18 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Bird had a tremendous UConn career overall, but what we saw of her vs. Tennessee in particular foreshadowed all the great things she has done as a pro.

"I think the series helped establish my identity as a player," Bird said. "As someone who, hopefully, makes their teammates better and when needed can come up with big plays and big shots." -- Mechelle Voepel

Where is she now? Bird plays for the Seattle Storm, with whom she has won three WNBA titles. She has four Olympic gold medals and will attempt to make the U.S. team again this summer.

4. Tamika Catchings, Tennessee forward (1997-2001)

Series stats: 3-3 vs. UConn, averaging 15.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.8 steals

Highlights: Known throughout her career as a relentless competitor who impacted the stat sheet in multiple ways, Catchings hit the ground running against the Huskies. As a freshman in a January 1998 victory in Knoxville, she had 17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks. In a January 1999 victory in Storrs, she had 18 points and six rebounds. In a February 2000 victory in Storrs, she had 19 points and 13 rebounds in what turned out to be UConn's only loss that season.

"It was being a part of something that was bigger than just a game," Catchings said. "The preparations for those games with UConn and the focus you had to have in practice -- you could feel the intensity. We practiced hard every day and felt we had some of the best talent. But against UConn, we knew we were playing against the best talent as well." -- Mechelle Voepel

Where is she now? Catchings played 15 seasons for the Indiana Fever, winning one WNBA title. She won four Olympic gold medals and is now the general manager of the WNBA's Indiana Fever.

5. Rebecca Lobo, UConn forward (1991-95)

Series stats: 2-0 vs. Tennessee, averaging 15.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.5 blocks and 1.0 steals

Highlights: The senior played just twice against the Lady Vols, but you could say they were the most important victories in program history. In the series opener in January 1995, which propelled the Huskies to the No. 1 ranking, Lobo had 13 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks. In the 1995 NCAA final, she had 17 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks to secure the Huskies' perfect season and first national championship.

After the regular-season win late on a Monday afternoon in Gampel Pavilion, when the exuberant fans had finally gone home, Lobo chatted with teammate Jennifer Rizzotti. They and some teammates were driving to Hartford that night to watch the UConn men face Georgetown and Allen Iverson.

"Jen asked me, 'Do you think if we got pulled over for speeding tonight, we'd get a ticket?'" Lobo said. "Two things made that funny: At that moment, our team was the biggest superstars in the state. No way we'd get a ticket. Second, her Dodge Dart couldn't go faster than 55 mph." -- Mechelle Voepel

Where is she now? Lobo played six seasons in the WNBA and won one Olympic gold medal. She is now a college basketball and WNBA analyst for ESPN.

6. Jennifer Rizzotti, UConn guard (1992-96)

Series stats: 3-1 vs. Tennessee, averaging 16.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.0 steals

Highlights: Like Lobo, Rizzotti was a critical part of the series' launch. As a junior in the opener in 1995, Rizzotti had 17 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 5 steals. In the 1995 NCAA final, she had 15 points, 3 assists and 3 steals. Her breakaway layup against Tennessee's Michelle Marciniak late in the national championship game is one of the iconic moments in UConn history. As a senior in the January 1996 victory, Rizzotti had 18 points, 5 assists and 3 steals. Marciniak got some revenge, scoring against Rizzotti late in the Huskies' overtime loss in the 1996 national semifinals. But Rizzotti had 17 points and 9 assists while playing all 45 minutes in that final game of her college career.

Auriemma wrote of recruiting Rizzotti: "When we go on her home visit, she cooks us dinner. This is a first for me. I want this kid in my program." -- Mechelle Voepel

Where is she now? Rizzotti played five seasons in the WNBA and is now the head coach of George Washington University's women's basketball team.

7. Candace Parker, Tennessee forward/center (2005-08)

Series stats: 2-0 vs. UConn, averaging 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.5 blocks and 1.0 steals

Highlights: Parker is best known as a Lady Vol for being the integral player who led Tennessee to its 2007 and '08 national championships, which didn't involve facing UConn. However, she makes this list largely based on one unforgettable game against the Huskies. She missed the 2004-05 season due to an injury, so her first shot at UConn came in January 2006, in a victory in Knoxville in which she had 13 points and one rebound. But it was the January 2007 victory in Hartford that stands out: Parker had 30 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks and a dunk in what was the last game of the series -- until this week.

Parker followed the dunk with a block, then grabbed the ball, dribbled down the court and dished off for an assist. It was about a 23-second sequence in which she showed that she could do it all.

"It's like when we had Diana," Auriemma said of Parker after the game. "What's the answer? Guess what? There is no answer. Sometimes you just gotta hope she has a bad game." -- Mechelle Voepel

Where is she now? Parker plays for the Los Angeles Sparks, with whom she has won one WNBA title, and has won two Olympic gold medals. She is also an analyst for NBA and men's college basketball with CBS and Turner Sports.

8. Semeka Randall, Tennessee guard (1997-2001)

Series stats: 4-3 vs. UConn, averaging 15.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.3 steals

Highlights: She became a polarizing player in the rivalry, and she loved that. As a freshman in a January 1998 victory in Knoxville, Randall had 23 points and 10 rebounds. In a January 1999 win in Storrs, she had 25 points and 7 rebounds and picked up the nickname "Boo" from UConn fans booing her after a brief scuffle with the Huskies' Svetlana Abrosimova over possession of the ball. In a 72-71 victory in February 2000 in Storrs -- UConn's only loss that season -- Randall scored 17 points and hit the game winner with 4.4 seconds left.

"Those were the most fun games to play in," Randall said. "It's funny, some people, if they catch me out in the Knoxville area ... it's not even, 'Hey, Semeka,' or 'Hey, Randall.' It's, 'Hey, Boo.' I'm proud of that name." -- Mechelle Voepel

Where is she now? Randall played four seasons in the WNBA. She is now an assistant coach for Winthrop women's basketball.

9. Nykesha Sales, UConn forward (1994-98)

Series stats: 4-3 vs. Tennessee, averaging 16.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.1 steals

Highlights: Sales tends to be overshadowed by the players who came before and after her. Plus, there's the Achilles injury that ended her college career in February of her senior year and the silly "controversy" over her being allowed to score one uncontested basket against Villanova to set what was then UConn's career scoring record. But in truth, Sales had a terrific career and was very good against the Lady Vols. Her rebounding average was the best among all players who appeared in at least four games in the series. In the 1996 national semifinal overtime loss, she led UConn with 28 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. In the January 1997 victory in Hartford, she had 22 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists.

Auriemma wrote of Sales: "She has a way of taking the ball and doing things with it that look effortless." -- Mechelle Voepel

Where is she now? Sales played nine seasons in the WNBA. She is now an assistant coach for Central Florida women's basketball.

10. Shea Ralph, UConn guard (1996-2001)

Series stats: 4-3 vs. Tennessee, averaging 12.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals

Highlights: She had a star-crossed career due to knee injuries, which forced her to redshirt a season, ended her freshman and senior seasons early, and kept her from going pro. But Ralph had some truly great moments, including against Tennessee, as she scored in double figures in six of seven games. In a February 2000 loss in Storrs, she had 16 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists but was angry about giving up the winning basket. That was fuel for her signature game, in which she went 7-of-8 from the field for 15 points, with 3 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals in the 2000 NCAA final victory.

"In those games, I knew I was playing with some future Olympians," Ralph said. "I just wanted to do my part. I don't know that it will be the same for our players now against Tennessee, but I'll enjoy telling them some stories." -- Mechelle Voepel

Where is she now? Ralph is in her 12th season as an assistant coach for UConn women's basketball.

Also receiving votes: Svetlana Abrosimova, UConn; Swin Cash, UConn; Maria Conlon, UConn; Alexis Hornbuckle, Tennessee; Kellie Jolly, Tennessee; Kara Lawson, Tennessee; Michelle Marciniak, Tennessee; Kelly Schumacher, UConn; Michelle Snow, Tennessee; Ann Strother, UConn; Kara Wolters, UConn

ESPN.com reporters Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays and D'Arcy Maine, former All-Americans Tamika Catchings of Tennessee and Rebecca Lobo of UConn, and ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson voted to determine the 10 most impactful players in the Tennessee-UConn rivalry. The panel also included Carol Stiff, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions, Pat Lowry, coordinating producer II for ESPN event production, and Melanie Jackson, senior editor at ESPN.com.