LeBron’s classic: UConn stars vs. Summitt’s Vols

    Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley believed her program would have celebrated a national championship Sunday night, had this season’s NCAA tournament proceeded as scheduled. That may have been, but a surprising source handed the Gamecocks program a different kind of loss.

Responding Sunday night to an SEC Network poll asking who would win a matchup between all-star teams from Pat Summitt’s coaching era at Tennessee and Staley’s coaching era at South Carolina, Lakers star LeBron James left no doubt that he backed a Lady Vols team. James went on to argue that the better matchup for Summitt’s all-time team, conference affiliation notwithstanding, would be a collection of UConn greats.

“Man WHAT??!!!” James’ Tweet began, followed by four laughing emojis. “No disrespect to those lady Gamecocks and their hoopers cause they can ball but THAT Lady Vols team would SMASH damn near any team.”

Tennessee’s team was composed of Tamika Catchings, Kellie Harper, Chamique Holdsclaw, Kara Lawson and Candace Parker. South Carolina’s entry in the hypothetical matchup was comprised of Alaina Coates, Kaela Davis, current senior Tyasha Harris, Tiffany Mitchell and A’ja Wilson. With the exception of Mitchell, the other Gamecocks were all members of South Carolina’s 2017 national championship team (although Coates was unable to play in that season’s NCAA tournament).

Tennessee’s players spanned five of the program’s eight national championships.

He suggested a UConn lineup of Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Rebecca Lobo, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi.

In real life, Summitt and Staley met seven times as coaches in SEC competition. Staley’s lone win in that span, in Knoxville during the 2011-12 season against a team ranked eighth in the country, ended South Carolina’s 32-year losing streak in the series.

The pair of legends also had three consecutive NCAA tournament meetings when Staley was still a player at Virginia. Staley’s Cavaliers upset the Lady Vols in a 1990 regional final, ending Tennessee’s bid for back-to-back national championships. But Tennessee eliminated Virginia in the Sweet 16 in 1989 and in overtime in the national championship game in 1991.

Staley’s current South Carolina team finished the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll with a 32-1 record. She was named the Naismith women’s basketball coach of the year, becoming the first person to win the Naismith award as both a coach and player of the year.

Geno Auriemma and UConn went 14-9 against Tennessee during the Summitt years. From 2000-04, the Huskies won eight of nine meetings, including the 2000, 2003 and 2004 title games.

The rivalry between UConn and South Carolina is not quite a rivalry yet, as South Carolina’s victory over the Huskies this season was the program’s first all-time in the matchup.

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