Vols, UConn set hoops series

Tennessee and the University of Connecticut jointly announced Wednesday that the schools have signed a two-game contract to face one another in men's basketball during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.

The Vols travel east for a clash at either Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., or the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., in 2010-11. The following season, Tennessee hosts UCONN at Thompson-Boling Arena.

A national power on the collegiate basketball landscape and a member of the Big East Conference, UConn has been coached for the past 23 seasons by Jim Calhoun. The Huskies claimed NCAA National Championships in 1999 and 2004.

"I have been a friend and longtime admirer of Jim Calhoun," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said. "I remember when he was coaching at Dedham (High School in Massachusetts). When I was a student assistant at Boston College, Jim was at Northeastern. He's taken UConn from a powerhouse in New England to one of the premier programs in the history of college basketball.

"We know these games with UConn will attract a tremendous national television audience."

Tennessee defeated UConn in the programs' only previous meeting on the hardwood, posting a 65-51 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 19, 2000, in Birmingham, Ala.

The Vols enter the 2009-10 season with a 36-41 all-time record against current members of the Big East. Tennessee went 2-0 against Big East opponents last season, defeating Georgetown and Marquette at neutral sites. Under Pearl, UT owns a 3-1 record against the Big East.

The announcement of the two-game agreement with UConn continues Tennessee's tradition of scheduling top-tier opponents during the Pearl era. Since the 2005-06 campaign — Pearl's first on Rocky Top — the Vols have played multiple-game series with Gonzaga, Memphis, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Temple and Texas. And in 2009-10, UT is set to conclude a two-game series with Kansas when the Jayhawks visit Thompson-Boling Arena.

"For the past several years, we've tried to schedule defending national champions or Final Four participants," Pearl said. "I know our fans appreciate seeing some of the best teams in the country come to Thompson-Boling Arena."

Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton also voiced enthusiasm about the upcoming series.

"This is going to be a great series not only for Tennessee and UConn fans, but for college basketball fans in general," Hamilton said. "This continues our efforts to play an ambitious non-conference schedule year-in and year-out. The Vols and Huskies have combined for 200 wins over the last four seasons and are led by two of the country's most respected head coaches in Bruce Pearl and Jim Calhoun. We expect this series to be tremendously exciting."

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