Ranking UConn's non-conference opponents from least to most interesting

While UConn has one of the best non-conference slates in the nation, some games are more exciting than others.

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Ranking the Huskies’ non-conference opponents from least to most interesting

Since the break-up of the old Big East, UConn women’s basketball has breezed through conference play, going 160-0 against AAC and new Big East opponents. The games haven’t even been competitive, with only Tulane in 2017 coming close to pulling off an upset.

Because of that, UConn’s most important games typically come during non-conference play. Not only do these matchups boost the Huskies’ postseason resume, they’re also the only tests for Geno Auriemma’s squad. Two years ago, we found out that UConn wasn’t a true national title contender after big losses to Baylor, Oregon and South Carolina. Last season, the Huskies fell to Arkansas but took down No. 1 South Carolina to prove their mettle.

This season, UConn will have one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation. Six games (potentially seven depending on how the Battle 4 Atlantis matchups shake out) will be against teams that finished in the final AP Poll while three reached at least the Sweet Sixteen.

On Tuesday, UConn announced it would play UCLA in the Never Forget Tribute Classic on Dec. 11 — a double-header with the men’s team in Newark — filling the last opening on its non-conference schedule.

While most of the dates are still yet to be announced, the Huskies will play Arkansas (Nov. 14), Notre Dame and Tennessee (dates TBA) at home, Georgia Tech (Dec. 9), South Carolina, and Oregon (dates TBA) on the road and have the Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 20-22) as well as the Hall of Fame Showcase (Louisville, Dec. 19) at neutral sites.

With the opponents locked in, we ranked them all from the least interesting to the most interesting. It’s not just which games will be the most competitive — though that was a factor — but also which will have the best storylines, drama and excitement level surrounding them.

9. Minnesota

UConn’s first opponent at the Battle 4 Atlantis, Minnesota has been to the NCAA Tournament just two times since 2010. While the Gophers are coached by former WNBA great Lindsey Whalen, they went just 8-13 last season and don’t project to be much of a challenge for the Huskies. The two schools don’t even have much history with each other either, having played just twice previously.

8. Georgia Tech

Even though Georgia Tech is coming off a trip to the Sweet Sixteen last season, this game is less about the matchup on the court and more about giving Olivia Nelson-Ododa a chance to play in front of her friends and family. However, the Yellow Jackets do return most of their top players from last season and should be a quality road opponent for the Huskies as well.

7. Notre Dame

While this is no longer the rivalry it once was, last season was the first time UConn and Notre Dame did not play since 1994-95. The most recent matchup (an 81-57 win for the Huskies in Dec. 2019) wasn’t competitive and although the Fighting Irish only went 10-10 in their first season under Niele Ivey, they’ve recruited well (five top-20 prospects over the last three years) and should progress this year.

It won’t be the No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle we’ve gotten used to over the last decade but the Notre Dame name alone will generate plenty of buzz across the state when the Fighting Irish come to town.

6. Tennessee

Like Notre Dame, the UConn-Tennessee rivalry will never be the same as it was in its hey-day. But since reviving the series in 2020, the two sides have played entertaining games — including a game-clinching shot by Paige Bueckers last season. This matchup still attracts the casual fans as well, which alone makes it worthwhile.

5. Oregon

The Ducks aren’t the same juggernaut they were when they visited Gampel Pavilion in 2020, but Kelly Graves has quietly kept Oregon in the national conversation despite losing Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally. Last season, the Ducks finished 15th in the final AP Poll and should only be better this year with their top-ranked 2020 recruiting class a year older.

In addition to the challenges Oregon presents on the court, UConn will travel cross-country which is never an easy task. This game will also be Evina Westbrook’s homecoming, a well-deserved honor after making it through a college career that was far from smooth.

4. UCLA

UCLA is arguably the best program without a Final Four appearance. The Bruins made the Elite Eight in 1999 and 2018 but have yet to break through. UCLA has an eye on changing that this year and its showdown with UConn in the Never Forget Tribute Classic will be the perfect measuring stick.

For the Huskies, Pac-12 teams always present a formidable challenge and also look good on the postseason resume. Though this matchup is exciting on its own, the fact that it’ll be part of a rare doubleheader with UConn men’s basketball in Newark should only add to the atmosphere.

3. Arkansas

Last season, Arkansas delivered UConn its only regular season loss. Now, the Razorbacks will look to snap the Huskies’ streak of 1,023 games without consecutive defeats when they face-off in the season opener. While Arkansas lost Chelsea Dungee and Destiny Slocum to graduation, the Razorbacks return Amber Ramirez (22 points against UConn) will added Jersey Wolfenbarger — the No. 7 player in the class of 2021 and one of the best names in the country.

With the Huskies looking to avenge their loss, combined with the fact that this will likely be the first time they play in front of a full crowd since March 2020, there should be no shortage of emotions. This should be one of the most entertaining games on UConn’s schedule.

2. Louisville

UConn and Louisville have been trying to play each other for a couple years now. In 2019, Cardinals head coach Jeff Walz erroneously announced that the two teams would face-off in the 2020 Never Forget Tribute Classic. Though that never materialized, they were supposed to play in “Bubbleville” at Mohegan Sun, only for the game to be canceled after UConn paused team activities due to a positive test within the program. There were even rumors that they tried scheduling another meeting later in the season, though that ultimately never worked out.

Finally, UConn and Louisville are set to face each other on the court for the first time since the 2019 Elite Eight during the Hall of Fame Showcase at Mohegan Sun on Dec. 19. While this should be a battle between two top ten squads, the big storyline going in will be about Paige Bueckers vs. Hailey Van Lith — Louisville’s star sophomore guard. Add in the personalities of Auriemma and Walz and there should be no shortage of entertainment on and off the court.

1. South Carolina

Last year’s meeting of No. 1 vs. No. 2 was an instant classic. South Carolina missed multiple chances to win it in the final moments of regulation before Paige Bueckers went off with all nine of UConn’s points in overtime, including a circus 3-pointer with just seconds left to seal the victory.

Neither program lost much from last season and both can make an argument for having the best incoming class in the nation. They’re scheduled to play once in Columbia, will likely meet again in the final at the Battle 4 Atlantis and might even see each other a third time in the Final Four. With Notre Dame out of the picture, this could be the year that UConn-South Carolina becomes the premier rivalry in college basketball. At the very least, each matchup between them will be must-see television.


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