Geno Auriemma says Lady Vols are 'any other school now,' doesn't see UConn-UT as big deal

Geno Auriemma doesn't see what the big deal is about Tennessee women's basketball anymore.

The Connecticut coach doesn't get why the renewal of the Lady Vols-UConn rivalry adds some hype to the upcoming season.

“I never understood the big to-do about us playing Tennessee again," Auriemma told The Connecticut Post during a coaches caravan stop Tuesday. "With all the teams we play and who we have played the last x-number of years, it just doesn’t seem the same. Yeah, the name is the same, but nothing else is the same. It’s almost like they’re any other school now.”

How's that for a summer hot take?

The Lady Vols remain the only program to make the NCAA Tournament in every year of its existence, and eight national championship banners hang in the rafters at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Yet, the Lady Vols haven't reached the Sweet 16 since 2016, which is the year of UConn's last national championship. It's been more than a decade since UT's last Final Four appearance in 2008, the year of its last national title.

When Tennessee and UConn square off Jan. 23 in Connecticut – the Huskies will pay a return visit to Knoxville the following season – it will be their first meeting since 2007. Since then, UConn established a gap between the programs.

The rivalry renewal will gain extra sizzle if Evina Westbrook receives an NCAA waiver to gain immediate eligibility. Westbrook, who was UT's leader in points, assists and steals last season, transferred to UConn earlier this month.

After last season's first-round NCAA Tournament exit, Westbrook raised some eyebrows with her lack of endorsement for Tennessee's coaching staff, saying she thought "steps need to be taken with our staff and just overall off the court with this team." 

Coach Holly Warlick already was on the hot seat, and she was fired the next week. Kellie Harper replaced her.

Westbrook opted for a fresh start, and Auriemma isn't concerned with her remarks that came under the microscope in March.

"Kids say things all the time," Auriemma told The Connecticut Post. "Coaches say things all the time. I wasn’t there. I know Holly really well. I don’t presume to know how that all went down. I’m not going to make any decision based on that. She knows the way she handled that probably wasn’t the best way to handle it. We talked about it, and she knows that.”

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Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at blake.toppmeyer@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage,consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.