UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Maya Moore could be upset. Maya Moore should be upset.
But that's just not Maya Moore.
When the University of Connecticut and Tennessee women's basketball teams sent out press releases Tuesday announcing that they would resume their rivalry that saw them play 22 times in 12 years, it was hard not to think of the Huskies' only four-time All-American and three-time Wade Trophy winner. It was her successful recruitment by UConn and coach Geno Auriemma that was the No. 1 reason Tennessee coach Pat Summitt unilaterally ended the series in 2007, about two months before Moore was to start her freshman year and six months or so before the teams were going to play in Knoxville.
"Oh, man," Moore said Friday. "I haven't thought too much on it with everything going on with our season. But I'm sure it's going to be exciting. Anytime we can create a new chapter in a story is always fun to see because of the history there. I'm sure it will create some fun games."
Moore had 12 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists Friday night for the Minnesota Lynx but the Connecticut Sun poured it on in the fourth quarter to defeat the reigning WNBA champions 96-79 at Mohegan Sun Arena. It was Minnesota's third straight loss and sixth in eight games. At 17-16 with a home game remaining against the Washington Mystics Sunday, the Lynx are locked into the No. 7 seed for the playoffs and will begin their bid for a fifth league title on the road Tuesday back here against the Sun or at Los Angeles or Phoenix.
It will be tough. For the first time since Moore came to the WNBA from UConn in 2011, the Lynx look like a pretender and not a contender. They also look old. Next June 11, Moore will turn 30. Of Minnesota's core group of Lindsay Whalen, Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, and Rebekkah Brunson, she is the youngest.
But for a few minutes before Friday's game, Moore was back to being a teenager with the thoughts of what she would bring to the Huskies when they faced the Lady Vols either in Connecticut or at Thompson-Boling Arena. When Summitt put up the stop sign, UConn led the series 13-9 and was 4-0 against Tennessee in national championship games but the Lady Vols had won the last three.
"I don't know," Moore said. "I don't know what it would have been like when I was there. We have some good memories against some other teams that became in a sense something like a rivalry. A new history will be created with this one."
Moore, a native of Lawrenceville, Georgia, made an unofficial recruiting visit to Storrs in October, 2005. Six months later, she announced her decision to commit to the Huskies with Tennessee, Duke, and Georgia being her other finalists.
But in 2007, the NCAA launched an investigation into the UConn program after receiving a complaint from the Southeastern Conference. The SEC asked the NCAA to look into an allegation that UConn had arranged an ESPN tour for Moore during the unofficial recruiting visit after receiving a complaint from Tennessee. UConn admitted to a secondary violation. In her memoir "Sum It Up" that came out in 2013, Summitt said her relationship with Auriemma had deteriorated at the time and that she had become "increasingly upset with a couple of UConn's tactics in recruiting."
Summitt gave up her position after the 2011-12 season after announcing in August 2011 that she had been diagnosed three months earlier with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. She was replaced by former Lady Vols player and long-time assistant Holly Warlick. Summitt died on June 28, 2016, at the age of 64.
It was reported in July 2013 that Warlick had approached Auriemma and they spoke at that summer's Women's Hall of Fame induction ceremony weekend in Knoxville. A source told SNY then that for UConn to possibly to agree to play, Tennessee has "explaining" to do from Summitt's decision and how its actions put Auriemma, some of his players, and the way he runs his program in a very negative light.
"He said he would if I apologized to his fans, former players, Maya Moore, her mother. I'm not going to do that," Warlick told the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
The announcement Tuesday came without an apology. Moore could not care less.
"I try not to pay too much attention," she said. "People, unfortunately, when it comes to sports sometimes take liberties to say things that don't have any substance to them. I understand it, but it's not helpful for the people on the receiving end. Again, I don't know who said what. It's not like it's a person that I'm associating anything with. But there was a point in the recruiting process, after everything was said and done, that wasn't graceful. But, again, I haven't thought about that in years."
Moore helped lead UConn to a 150-4 record with two national championships and the first four of their current record run of 11 consecutive Final Four appearances. She graduated in the top five at the school in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocked shots. Her 3,036 career points are 360 points ahead of No. 2 Breanna Stewart.
She is one of the 10 players to win an NCAA (2009, 2010) and WNBA title (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017) as well as an Olympic gold medal (2012, 2016), and FIBA world championship gold medal (2010, 2014).
Since the Huskies and Lady Vols last met, UConn has overtaken Tennessee for the lead in national championships (11-8) and in Final Four appearances (19-18).
As part of the two-year deal announced Tuesday, UConn will host Tennessee during the 2019-20 season (ESPN reported that Jan. 23, 2020, was the date) with a portion of proceeds benefitting the Pat Summitt Foundation and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In the 2020-21 season, the Lady Vols will host the Huskies in Knoxville, with a portion of proceeds again benefitting the Pat Summitt Foundation and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, as well as the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
WHALEN, AURIEMMA: MUTUAL ADMIRATION
Auriemma has coached some of the best guards to ever play women's basketball, including his former UConn standouts Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi.
Put Whalen -- who won two Olympic gold medals and two FIBA world championship golds during Auriemma's tenure with USA Basketball (2009-16) -- on that short list of stars.
"Lindsay was the ultimate competitor," Auriemma said Thursday. "And she was a great team leader -- either as a star or a role player. She was one of my favorite players to coach."
Whalen announced Monday her plans to retire from the Minnesota Lynx at the end of the WNBA season. She spent her first six professional seasons in Connecticut with the Sun after being the team's first-round pick (No. 4 overall) in 2004 and the last nine with the Lynx.
She is the all-time leader in wins for a WNBA player (322). She has appeared in 479 games and scored 5,513 points. Her 2,342 assists are the third-most in league history behind Bird and Ticha Penichiero. She's a six-time All-Star and was chosen as one of the top 20 players in the WNBA's first 20 years.
In the spring, she was named the coach at her alma mater the University of Minnesota, which she led to the 2004 NCAA Final Four. She said she hopes to be a lot like her coaches in the WNBA (Mike Thibault and Cheryl Reeve) and with USA Basketball (Auriemma). Along with her four WNBA titles, she has two Olympic gold medals and two FIBA world championship gold medals in her years with Team USA.
"When I made that first world championships team to actually play for Geno was like, I mean, to make the national team you feel like you made the highest point of your career," Whalen said. "Obviously he's the greatest women's coach ever. He's the pinnacle and to be able to play for him was amazing. I can't say enough about what he did for my career in those eight years with the national team. It was a very special time. Between him and Mrs. A (Kathy Auriemma), it was great to get to know them as people as well as play for him."
Prior to Friday night's game at Mohegan Sun Arena, a short video that was a tribute to Whalen was shown. As tipoff neared, Whalen was again shown on the video board and both teams stopped and applauded as she acknowledged the announced crowd of 7,089 that gave her a 45-second standing ovation.
If the Los Angeles Sparks beat the Sun and the Phoenix defeat the New York Liberty Sunday, Whalen and the Lynx will be back here Tuesday for a first-round, single-elimination playoff game.