PHILADELPHIA -- They went their separate ways in 2014 when Louisville -- the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's rival in the Big East for eight years and American Athletic Conference for a season -- joined the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But after three years, the Huskies and Cardinals have found each other again and that is good news for the sport.
UConn and Louisville have agreed to a home-and-home series starting next season. When the contract is signed by the schools, the Cardinals will play in Connecticut in 2017-18 -- likely in January or February -- with the Huskies visiting the KFC Yum! Center in 2018-19.
"This was always kind of going to be in the works, and was always kind of going to happen," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Wednesday night after No. 1 UConn defeated Temple 97-69 in American Athletic Conference action at the Liacouras Center. "It took them a little bit longer to put together than we anticipated.
"But it's no different than any other year. Our players want to play against the best teams out there. And who are the teams that our fans want to see? Who are the teams that they get excited about us playing? Louisville is certainly one of them. The series will be great for us and hopefully it will be great for them."
UConn leads the series with Louisville 16-1, with the Cardinals' only victory coming in a 1993 NCAA tournament first-round game at Gampel Pavilion. That win by Louisville was the last time UConn lost before the NCAA Sweet 16, the last time the Huskies lost a NCAA tournament game on campus, and the last time UConn has lost back-to-back games. The Huskies had lost their previous game to Providence in the Big East tournament semifinals.
While they were league rivals, they also played for the national championship twice.
In 2009, UConn defeated Louisville 76-54 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis as Final Four Most Outstanding Player Tina Charles led the Huskies with 25 points and 19 rebounds. In 2013, freshman Breanna Stewart took home MOP honors as she had 23 points and nine rebounds in a 93-60 rout of the Cardinals at New Orleans Arena.
The new series will also match the top two players in the high school Class of 2015: UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson and Louisville's Asia Durr. They were teammates on USA Basketball's 2013 U-16 national team that won a gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championships, and on the 2014 U-17 national team that won the gold medal at the FIBA world championships.
"We had a great non-league schedule this year and we want that every year," Samuelson said. "We want to play against the best teams in the country and Louisville is certainly among them."
UConn's 13-game non-league schedule for next season is not complete but is expected to include home games with Louisville, Maryland, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma, road games against DePaul, Ohio State, South Carolina, Texas, and UCLA, and neutral site games with Michigan State in Eugene, Oregon, and with Duquesne in Toronto, Canada, that will serve as a homecoming for Kia Nurse.
The Huskies got a boost Wednesday night when Crystal Dangerfield returned to action after she missed five games with a stress reaction of her left foot. The freshman point guard played 18 minutes off the bench and had six points.
"It felt good to have her back. Obviously she makes a big difference on this team," UConn forward Napheesa Collier said.
"She gave us good minutes and did a lot of good things," fellow forward Gabby Williams added. "We didn't lose anything when she came in. We got something, and that's what we need from our bench."
Auriemma used Dangerfield for four stretches that each lasted in the four-minute range. Her return also allowed the coach to give Nurse a bit of a break.
"Kia has a bad ankle," Auriemma said. "She twisted it (Tuesday) and it's been bothering her to begin with so she's not 100 percent to start with. It's good to get people some rest."
Nurse still managed to play 32 minutes and had eight points, four assists to one turnover, and two steals. But that turnover, which came when the junior guard threw a pass out of bounds with 5:25 left, was the first for Nurse in 172 minutes of court time. She had compiled 27 assists since her previous turnover early in the second quarter at SMU on Jan. 14.
Auriemma, who grew up in nearby Norristown, Pennsylvania, received a nice reception Wednesday night as he usually does when he returns here. But with the Huskies not arriving until late Tuesday, he was unable to give his players a quick tour of the City of Brotherly Love.
The Hall of Fame coach said he still savors his homecomings.
"There are a lot of people that know me now that didn't know me when I was living here," Auriemma said with a smile. "They all come up to me after the game and they want to shake my hand and give me a big hug. But I know who my cousins are and who my uncles are, and you're not one of them. So you get a lot of that. But I always enjoy it. I always enjoy coming down here. I'm never not going to be from here. I'll never lose what I took from here. When I come back and I have some conversations with everybody that I know who lives here, a part of me goes, 'Not a bad idea to move from here, but it's always great to come back here.' "
Auriemma was asked if he had a chance to go to "Geno's" for a Philly cheese steak.
"I haven't been there in forever," he replied. "That's too obvious. Unless he called me and told me I had free cheese steaks for the rest of my life, then maybe I'd go.
"The one place they give me the hardest time is down where all the Italians are. My uncle owns a place on 9th Street and every time I go down there they go, 'Get the hell out of here. What are you doing here?' Especially if there's media around, they get pissed. You would think they'd be happy."
The Huskies are 51-15 against Phiadelphia Big Five schools during Auriemma's tenure, with most of that record built against former Big East foe Villanova (36-11). However, Auriemma is 0-3 against La Salle, one of only two schools he has a losing record against. The other is U.S. International (0-1). The Huskies and Explorers, though, have not played since Dec. 29, 1989.
Auriemma did not fly home with the Huskies Wednesday night but was set to head to Virginia Thursday to watch Sam Brunelle (6-foot-2 sophomore forward, Ruckersville, Virginia). Brunelle, a member of the 2016 U-17 national team, is considered the top recruit in the Class of 2019 ... Auriemma's 976th win pulls him within one of Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer for fourth place on the all-time win list. Rutgers plays at Iowa Thursday night. Auriemma's record is 976-134, compared to Stringer's 977-382 ... Tanaya Atkinson had a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds for Temple Wednesday night. According to Jim Fuller of the New Haven Register, Atkinson -- who is from New Haven is the first Connecticut native to score at least 20 points against UConn since St. John's Da'Shena Stevens of Stamford had 27 for the Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena on Feb. 11, 2009. Stevens' younger sister is UConn's Azura' Stevens, who is sitting out this season after transferring from Duke ... UConn entertains Tulsa Sunday at Gampel Pavilion (SNY, 2 p.m.). The Huskies defeated the Golden Hurricane 98-58 in Tulsa on Jan. 17 as Samuelson netted a career high 34 points.