Then the summer of 2007 came along. Fueled by the velocity of the bluster between Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and UConn's Geno Auriemma, the Lady Vols uprooted the series. They haven't played since, and with Summitt's retirement after last season, perhaps no one will care if they ever play again.
In its day, Tennessee-UConn was a rivalry in the purest form, one that perfectly fit Auriemma's description.
"For there to be a rivalry, the other team has to beat you on a regular basis," Auriemma has always said. "Otherwise, how could there be a rivalry?"
Now UConn-Stanford is a rivalry, so it seems appropriate that the two will meet again Saturday at Maples Pavilion as the top two teams in the nation. No. 1 Stanford (11-0) plays No. 2 UConn (10-0) at 4 p.m. on ESPNU for all the marbles currently sitting on the table. This is the third time in the past four years that Stanford and UConn will play when they were among the top four teams in the nation.
They have each inflicted damage on the other in big games. Stanford beat UConn in the 2008 national semifinals. The Cardinal ended the Huskies' 90-game winning streak on Dec. 30, 2010, beating them in Palo Alto.
UConn has won all three previous matchups when they were No. 1 vs. No. 2 games. The Huskies defeated the Cardinal at the 2009 and 2010 Final Fours, and in a regular-season game in Hartford on Dec. 23, 2009.
"I don't know if there are any characteristics about it [the rivalry] that would distinguish it from the others we've had," Auriemma said. "The Notre Dame rivalry [eight games in two seasons] is so familiar; we play them so much because they are in the Big East. But the Stanford rivalry has gotten interesting over the last four or five years because of the importance of the games we've played against each other. We've met so many times in the Final Four. That's how rivalries usually become big ones. It has to do with the importance of each game you play."
"If we played each other in the regular season, but not the NCAA Tournament, it wouldn't be as big as it's become. The Notre Dame rivalry became big because it led to a number of meetings in the NCAAs [three national semifinals, including the past two]. It was the same with Tennessee. And it's that way with Stanford."
"That is what escalates a rivalry."
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer also sees it as part of a developing season.
"Yeah, I would say it's a rivalry, but more than that it's a measuring stick," VanDerveer said. "When we play teams like Connecticut and Tennessee, we get to find out where we are and how much more we have to do."
"Nobody cares about rankings when the ball goes up. But I know it's good for fans and interest in the game."
Both coaches will have their teams prepared.
"Coach always made sure that we knew the difference between losing and getting beat," said former UConn guard Kalana Greene, who now plays with the WNBA's Connecticut Sun. "Most of the teams throughout the season we knew they could never beat us, we would have to lose to them.
"In the case of Stanford, they had one of the best coaches in college basketball. Their roster always had some of the most talented players in college basketball, and unsurprisingly some of the most athletic players, as well.
"We had played athletic teams and well-coached teams and beat them with ease, but with this team you couldn't outrun them or outjump them. It was a chess match and whoever made the right moves at the right times would win the game.
"So when we played Stanford, we knew that we were going to play the toughest mental game of our season and were facing one of the few teams that could actually beat us."
The game will mark the 51st time that the top two teams in the Associated Press poll have played since the poll's inception for the 1976-77 season. The No. 1 team holds a 31-19 edge and has won the past nine meetings. The last time the No. 2 team won was Feb. 25, 2006, when No. 2 North Carolina defeated No. 1 Duke 77-65 in Chapel Hill.
What's more, Stanford's national-best home winning streak is now at 82 following a Dec. 15 win over Pacific. The streak dates to Nov. 28, 2007, with a 96-61 victory over San Francisco.
In Stanford, UConn has found a perfect foil, an opponent it can compete with without the slightest trace of acrimony. Auriemma and VanDerveer and their staffs seem not only to respect each other, but to like each other's company.
"Stanford recruits the same type of kids we do," Auriemma said. "They are extremely well-coached and always have tough, physical players. And it's always a challenge to play them out there. It may be the hardest place in the nation for a visiting team to play."
For that reason, the coaches have agreed to play each other annually in the regular season until further notice. This will be the fourth year that they've alternated home sites, and the 2013-14 season will begin next November with Stanford in Connecticut.
"We value offensively skilled players," VanDerveer said. "We both work hard defensively, but we both emphasize playing basketball with a purpose. In some ways, our styles are the same."
This will be the 14th game in series history; UConn holds a 7-6 advantage after losing the first three. But since UConn beat Stanford in the semifinals of the 1995 Final Four to advance to its world-altering championship game win over Tennessee, the series has swung in the Huskies' direction.
Stanford's only wins over UConn in the nine games played since 1995 have come in the Sweet 16 of the 2005 NCAA Tournament, that national semifinal in 2008 and the 2010 game ending the Huskies' streak.
"Yeah, we ended their streak, and I'm sure they'd like to do the same thing to us," Stanford guard Toni Kokenis said. "This is an opportunity for them. And I'm sure they will be ready."
Stanford became No. 1 on Nov. 16 by defeating Baylor 71-69 in Hawaii. Baylor played the last 36 minutes without its All-American guard, Odyssey Sims. And yet the Associated Press leapfrogged Stanford over UConn into the top spot. And they've been frozen in time since, six weeks, matching the program's longest tenure at the top, first set during start of the 1996-97 season.
And one more thing: UConn has lost all three games it has played at Maples Pavilion.
"For UConn, in their eyes, I'm sure they think they deserve the No. 1 ranking and there's an argument to be made. ... They are really hungry to prove themselves," Stanford junior Chiney Ogwumike said.