Dan Fleser: Thoughts On Tennessee's Ventures To Connecticut, Kansas

Wednesday, January 22, 2020 - by Dan Fleser

KNOXVILLE – Tennessee and Connecticut resume an historic women’s basketball rivalry Thursday night after a 13-year hiatus. Meanwhile, who’s playing for Kansas and who’s not when the Jayhawks host Tennessee on Saturday?

Some thoughts on some basketball things:

The ripple effect from the postgame basketball brawl involving players from Kansas and Kansas State Tuesday night resulted in a 12-game suspension for Jayhawks forward Silvio De Sousa and a two-game suspension for forward David McCormack on Wednesday.

“This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and these suspensions reflect the severity of last evening’s events,” Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement.

Kansas coach Bill Self had announced an indefinite suspension for De Sousa earlier on Wednesday before the conference took action.

“As I said last night, we are disappointed in his actions and there is no place in the game for that behavior,” Self said.

The 6-foot-10 McCormack has been the most productive of the two players, averaging 7.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

Thoughts: Under the circumstances, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Tennessee’s 76-68 victory over then-No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 10, 2010. The improbable result occurred two days after then-Vols coach Bruce Pearl dismissed forward Tyler Smith following his arrest for misdemeanor drug and gun charges. Fellow Vols Cam Tatum, Brian Williams and Melvin Goins also were arrested and suspended for the game.

Reserve Skylar McBee was an unlikely hero in the victory, hitting a clutch 3-pointer inside the final minute.

That Tennessee team winning under those circumstances was a lot less likely than Kansas prevailing on Saturday without its two players.

Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper has heard from several of her former Tennessee teammates in advance of Thursday’s game. Some even spoke of traveling to Hartford, Conn., for the occasion.

They’re drawn to the memories.

“For us as players, it was fun to play in those games,” Harper said. “Those were some of our biggest crowds. I think we all enjoyed it, enjoyed the competition.”

Thoughts: My best memories of those games involved the players and how the competition brought out the best in them.

Granted, coaches Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma deserved credit for preparing their teams. But they weren’t the performers. The players made the court into a stage for their compelling feats.

Wonder if any of this history will repeat itself?

A final thought: The Lady Vols biggest challenge Thursday likely will involve guarding the Huskies. Averaging 7.4 blocks per game isn’t enough of a deterrent against an offense as capable as UConn’s

“They are so efficient,” Harper said. “They are so fast in terms of running their sets, pushing in transition. Every action they do is at an elite speed and we have not seen a lot of that. I think just guarding that action is relentless and constant. You have to be mentally tough and physically tough to be able to defend (the Huskies).”

* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com

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