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While the Huskies’ perfect season in 1995 ignited the program’s dynastic run – now 11 national titles and counting – it also showcased the women’s game, momentum that swelled as UConn and Tennessee began an annual out-of-conference rivalry that drew eyeballs and praise. Two schools, located some 850 miles apart, had successfully altered the national perception of women’s hoops.
"UConn and Tennessee both showed that, ‘OK, if you invest in women’s basketball, you can attract a passionate fan base, you can attract and build a strong program that can accrue to your university,” women’s sports historian Cat Ariail said.
But the ripple effects of the swelling UConn-Tennessee rivalry spread beyond the college ranks.
A year after UConn and Tennessee first tussled, the NBA announced the creation of the WNBA. Around the same time a rival women’s professional league, the American Basketball League, also began U.S. operations.
When the U.S. Women’s National Team breezed to the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the profile of the women’s game further accelerated. The following June, the WNBA debuted. That the WNBA celebrated its 25th season last year is a testament to what the UConn- Tennessee rivalry helped spark and the bright spotlight two high-caliber college programs put on women’s basketball.
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