KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- No. 5 UConn women's basketball pulled off another short-handed victory Thursday night, and it was a big one, taking down Tennessee 84-67 on national TV in the 26th meeting between the storied rivals.
The outing -- in front of 13,804 fans, the biggest Lady Vols crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena since 2015 -- marked the largest margin of victory in a true road game by either team in series history.
"It was another challenge for them, and they've kind of risen to the occasion on just about every challenge this year," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of his team.
UConn (19-2) had just eight players available Thursday, as No. 1 2021 recruit Azzi Fudd (knee injury) and fellow sophomore Caroline Ducharme (concussion protocol) remain sidelined. Paige Bueckers, the 2020-21 player of the year, and freshman Ice Brady were previously ruled out for the season with injuries before its start.
All the Huskies starters played north of 36 minutes, with freshman Ayanna Patterson (recently back from a concussion of her own) seeing the floor for approximately 10 minutes and sophomore Amari DeBerry for fewer than 90 seconds.
UConn improves to 17-9 against the Lady Vols, winning each of the four games since the series was revived in the 2019-20 season. The matchup followed the first NCAA women's basketball "College GameDay" of the 2022-23 season, with two more on the way.
It was the first real, robust Tennessee home game in the series' renewal, as their last meeting in Knoxville -- coming amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2021 -- had a limited capacity (3,553 fans). The Thompson-Boling crowd booed UConn as it took the court (and booed Auriemma even more when he emerged onto the floor), while erupting during Lady Vols runs, especially in the second quarter.
After UConn bounced ahead 33-17 after the first, Tennessee made things interesting by outscoring the Huskies 19-7 in the next frame, closing within four at the half.
"It was awesome. It was fun," said Tennessee coach Kellie Harper, whose team fell to 16-7, including 8-7 in nonconference play, with the loss. "I hope that our fans enjoyed the excitement. Wish it would have been a better outcome for us, but we appreciate our fans being there being loud.
"When it got really loud in the second quarter, when we were making a lot of tough, gritty plays, at one point I was so excited for our team that they were really experiencing that environment because that was a lot of fun. That's what you come to Tennessee for."
But it was all UConn after halftime, with a 3 from Lou Lopez Sénéchal at the 4:40 mark of the third giving the Huskies a double-figure lead for good. The Lady Vols fans departed the stands with about three minutes remaining in the game, after a Dorka Juhász 3 put the Huskies up by 17.
"They love this game," Auriemma said of his players. "South Carolina game coming up, they love games like that. At Notre Dame. They love this stuff. It's why you come to Connecticut. Play on national television against the best teams."
Graduate student Lopez Sénéchal, who transferred this offseason from Fairfield, finished with a season-high 26 points in her first and only experience playing in the rivalry. Junior Aaliyah Edwards was right behind her with 25 points. Junior Nika Mühl finished with 14 assists, giving her nine games with double-digit assists this season, three more than the next player.
Tennessee allowed UConn to shoot 55% from the floor and 57% on 3s, which according to ESPN Stats & Information research is the worst it has allowed in any game under Harper.
Lady Vols senior Jordan Horston -- a projected first-round WNBA draft pick in April -- led all scorers with 27. She came off the bench and played 33 minutes after missing the previous game with an illness.
Tennessee entered the matchup on a nine-game winning streak and is still unbeaten in SEC play, but the Lady Vols have lost to every ranked opponent they've faced so far this season. They take on No. 4 LSU on Monday in a battle of two teams that are unbeaten in conference play.
"We've just got to see how can we be a better basketball team ... how can we take that next step," Harper said. "We have improved, anybody that has seen us play knows that we are very capable and we can play, but what we want to do is take it another step and for us that's going to be in the details ... and the consistency."