The players didn't want to leave the court. The fans at Gampel Pavilion didn't want to leave their seats.
Aretha Franklin blared from the sound system. ``Re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-spect. Just a little bit. Just a little bit.''
The University of Connecticut women's basketball team earned a lot of it Monday, defeating No. 1-ranked Tennessee 77-66 before a sellout crowd of 8,241 and a national television audience.
UConn, 13-0 and ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, likely will move up to No. 1 when the poll is released today at 6 p.m. It would be the first time a UConn basketball team has reached No. 1.
``I think this proved to [UConn] as well as the rest of the country that they deserved the top ranking,'' said Robin Roberts, who worked the ESPN telecast Monday with Mimi Griffin of CBS. ``I think [UConn] even questioned themselves as to how good they really were.''
The Huskies proved it to themselves, the Volunteers and the poll voters, and they also showed a growing fan base how far the women's basketball program has come.
Two of downtown Hartford's biggest sports bars, Coach's and Challenges, had all their TV sets tuned to the game and drew big crowds.
Michael Guinan, one of the owners of Coach's, said 250 to 300 people were in the restaurant during the game, which began at 1 p.m.
``It's very busy for a Monday,'' Guinan said. ``It's probably double our lunch business. But we knew it would be. We were receiving calls last week and all this morning for reservations.''
Sheila Cobb of Vernon and Kelley Donahue of West Hartford decided Sunday to take Monday afternoon off and watch the game at Coach's. Cobb and Donahue said they wanted to attend a women's game at Gampel this season, but couldn't get tickets. The women's team sold out its allotment of season tickets this season.
``They should have gotten [this amount of attention] all along,'' Donahue said. ``They deserve it.''
Said Cobb: ``I think people are finally catching on. They've gotten so good that people can't deny it.''
John Joseph of Hebron certainly couldn't. He drove to Challenges Monday to see his first women's basketball game, and came away impressed.
``I didn't think women could play this good,'' he said. ``They're good ball handlers and good shooters. I'm enjoying myself.''
But not nearly as much as the folks at Gampel were.
With one minute left in the game and UConn leading by 11, the fans began to chant ``We're No. 1, we're No. 1.'' After UConn's Jamelle Elliott made two free throws, Rebecca Lobo, who fouled out of the game with 4 minutes, 52 seconds left, joyfully hugged reserve guard Missy Rose and both tripped over Kim Better, who was on the court.
When the buzzer sounded, Lobo, the chief cheerleader, led the bench onto the court. Her arms were raised, her index fingers pointed skyward. She and her teammates collapsed in a screaming heap on the polished wood floor to be swallowed up by television cameras and photographers.
The fans stayed, dancing, screaming and waving homemade signs and banners. One read, ``2 vs. 1 = UConn.''
``It's the best,'' said Eileen Sullivan of Canterbury, a season ticket holder. She said the victory didn't surprise her. ``No, not at all,'' she said.
``What an incredible feeling,'' said UConn sophomore Kara Wolters, who scored 18 points and blocked five shots. ``I think I'm still in shock.''
The players finally left the floor, and most of the fans left the building. Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, whose team has been top-ranked all season, was still on the court, talking to fans and signing autographs.
The noise and the crowd, she said, didn't faze the Volunteers. ``We've been in four other gyms this year like this,'' she said.
Did she think UConn deserved the No. 1 spot?
Summitt nodded. ``They got my vote.''Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times