Unrivaled: UConn, Tennessee, and the Twelve Years that Transcended Women’s Basketball

By Jeff Goldberg

(University of Nebraska Press, $27.95, 234 pages)

Who is this author?

Jeff Goldberg (and if you are curious, yes, he is my son) was The Courant’s UConn women’s basketball beat writer from 2001 to 2006, a period that included championship seasons in 2002, 2003 and 2004. He also wrote three championship commemorative sections, including a commemorative book, “Excellence 3″ in 2004, and earlier, was The Courant’s UConn basketball on-line columnist from 1997 to 2001. Unrivaled is his second book on UConn women’s basketball. In 2001, he published Bird at the Buzzer: UConn, Notre Dame, and a Women’s Basketball Classic, a narrative of what many think was the single best women’s college basketball game ever played. From 2006 to 2008, he was the paper’s Red Sox beat writer. Since leaving The Courant in 2008, Jeff has been an editorial producer for MLB.com and  general manager of editorial content for Football Nation, LLC, as well as a sports freelancer in the Boston area. In August, he and his wife relocated to San Diego.

What is this book about?

Fans of UConn’s women’s basketball team – and for that matter, of women’s college basketball in general —  know that the rivalry between UConn and Tennessee was something special: a continuing source of great games, along with arguments and ill feelings. The teams began playing one another some 20 years ago and continued until 2007, when Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt abruptly canceled the series with no explanation from her or from UConn coach Geno Auriemma.  Unrivaled takes a deep dive into that history and all the controversies it generated while helping to make the women’s game a national phenomenon. The two coaches respected each other, but apparently did not like each other. The book offers intriguing theories on what happened to cause the end of their competition, from serious issues involving recruitment to misunderstood attempts at humor. Now that Summitt is sadly suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, her version will never be known, but this book offers the most detailed explanation so far of what went wrong and why.

Why you’ll like it:

Goldberg writes with insight, clarity, insider knowledge, humor and empathy about this complex interaction of coaches, players and fans. He uses his extensive background in daily sports journalism and his personal connections to coaches and players to give authority and authenticity to this compelling story. The book also offers two other voices that will be of great interest to UConn fans: Rebecca Lobo, a basketball analyst for ESPN who played for the UConn team and on three WNBA teams, wrote its foreword, and Auriemma’s daughter Alyssa, who wrote a touching and widely read blog post about Summitt in 2012, wrote the book’s afterword.

What others are saying:

“There were many memorable moments in the UConn–Tennessee rivalry. The author captures them all in exquisite detail, plus many more. This is a must-read for any women’s basketball fan, let alone those who follow the Huskies and Lady Vols,” says Mel Greenberg, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee former women’s basketball writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and creator of the weekly Associated Press women’s basketball poll.

Says Library Journal: “Goldberg (Bird at the Buzzer) delivers the story of one of sports’ greatest rivalries, the 12-year feud between the University of Connecticut (UConn) and University of Tennessee women’s basketball teams. This title gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the drama on and off the court as the two teams ushered women’s basketball into the mainstream, as well as the highly publicized conflicts between coaches Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt. While the author has an obvious connection to Connecticut through his former role as the women’s basketball writer at the Hartford Courant and his published book on UConn player Sue Bird, he uses game summaries and quotes from parties on both sides of the battle line to present an unbiased account, a quality especially pertinent as the rivalry turned ugly toward the end. The volume expands upon Richard Kent’s Lady Vols and UConn, chronicling the competition to its controversial end and beyond to Tennessee’s legendary Coach Summitt’s retirement. VERDICT Because Goldberg includes detailed game summaries and basketball jargon, readers unfamiliar with the sport may find the book challenging, but it is highly recommended for basketball and collegiate sports fans as well as readers interested in learning about this important era in women’s history.”

When is it available?

It’s a slam dunk that you’ll find this book at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Camp Field, Mark Twain and Park branches.

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