Evina Westbrook headed to the visitorâs locker room at Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday night after the UConn womenâs basketball teamâs 67-61 win over Tennessee with one thought in mind.
âOne of the first words that came out of my mouth was, âIâm glad itâs over,â â Westbrook said.
Westbrook, who played her first two seasons for the Lady Vols, left another impression before leaving Knoxville for maybe the last time.
The redshirt junior guard finished with 15 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Her back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter started a 9-0 run that gave the third-ranked Huskies a lead they would not relinquish.
âI thought she was unbelievably good,â UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. âShe made some clutch, clutch shots in big moments in the game. It couldnât have been easy for her to come here but I couldnât have asked her to play any better.â
At shootaround, he pulled her aside.
âCoach said to play with emotion but not let it get the best of me,â Westbrook said. â I didnât try to do too much and let the game come to me, play with my teammates and try to get them open. I didnât want to get out of character.
âI leaned on my teammates for a lot of it because I knew they were going to have my back in any situation.â
Westbrook broke the gameâs last tie with her trey with 6:44 to go and added a second 66 seconds later. After Tennessee cut a nine-point deficit to two in the final minute, Westbrook whipped a pass to Paige Bueckers with the shot clock winding down and the freshmanâs trey was a dagger.
With 14.1 seconds left, Westbrook hit a free throw to account for the final score.
âI didnât come in here wanting to prove people wrong,â Westbrook said. âI wanted to prove to people who believed in me from the start right.
âThose two threes were big for us and gave us a lot of momentum, gave us a lot of energy. Thatâs what my team needed. Thatâs any game, not because we were playing Tennessee. Whatever the team needs me to do, whether itâs assists or box outs or screens, Iâm going to try and do that.â
She did just that.
One thing Auriemma had in common with late Tennessee coach Pat Summitt was theyâd play any opponent anywhere at anytime.
Thursday nightâs game concludes the two-game contract between UConn and Tennessee. On Monday, Auriemma said, âI think people have to realize that itâs not a big deal anymore.â Then after hearing Tuesday that Summittâs former point guard, Lady Volsâ coach Kellie Harper, was hopeful they could continue to play, Auriemma said he could see it happen.
âPlaying them is a good game,â Auriemma said after his teamâs win. âItâs been awhile since the game was easy to put together. Up to now it wasnât. Now that it feels like everyone is OK with doing it, especially when the fans come back, you want to give your players the chance to play the best teams in the toughest environments.â
A crowd of 3,553 was allowed in for the first meeting between UConn and Tennessee in Knoxville in 15 years.
"My first thought was that I hate we werenât going to have 22,000 people here today. That would have been really cool for both teams,â Harper said.
UConn leads the series with Tennessee 15-9 and is 5-3 against the Lady Vols at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Christyn Williams isnât looking past the Huskiesâ Big East home game with Georgetown Saturday, but the Little Rock, Arkansas native is looking forward to going home next week.
UConn will take on Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville next Thursday.
âIâm really excited for that,â Williams said. âItâs my homecoming game and usually they do it for your senior year but mine is coming early. I havenât played there since my last high school state championship game. So Iâm excited and Iâm glad my family will be able to see me.â
Fayetteville is a three-hour drive from Little Rock. UConn was to start a home-and-home series with Arkansas-Little Rock this season with Williams getting a homecoming game in 2021-22 before the pandemic hit. The fate of that series is unknown.
Next Thursdayâs date came open for the Razorbacks when Vanderbilt opted out of the season Monday. Auriemma got on the phone with Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors and the schools put the game together.
âWeâre going to get on a plane and go to Arkansas and theyâre going to try and score 120 on us because thatâs the way they play,â Auriemma said. âWeâve got three SEC teams. Who knows who we might end up playing if this thing keeps going sideways?
âI called Neighbors and said, âMike, do you want to play?â He said, âYeah, weâd love to play.â At this point it doesnât matter who you play, when you play, where you play. You need to play games and play people who are pretty good if you can.â
Auriemma and Harper each made $10,000 personal donations that will benefit the Pat Summitt Foundation and the Womenâs Basketball Hall of Fame âŠ Bueckers and Tennesseeâs Jordan Horston were teammates on USA Basketballâs 2018 national team that won the gold medal at the FIBA U-17 World Cup. The duo made just 3-of-25 shots in their first game as opponents âŠ Aubrey Griffin made her second straight start for UConn and had 10 points, four rebounds, and two blocked shots in 23 minutes. âŠ While Tennessee players wore âSummittâ on the back of their uniforms to honor the late Hall of Fame coach, UConnâs uniforms had âDeeâ above the star on the back to honor long-time coach and administrator Dee Rowe, who died on Jan. 10.