Wednesday, March 23, 2005

New Dean of Basketball

Pat Summitt reached a summit Tuesday night.

The Tennessee Lady Vols ushered their legendary women's basketball coach to the top of the Division I career victories list with a 75-54 victory over Purdue in a second-round NCAA tournament game of the Philadelphia Regional.

In honor of victory No. 880 which broke a tie with former North Carolina coach Dean Smith, Summitt received the game ball and a gift from the NCAA. That was to be expected. The surprise was the announcement that the Thompson-Boling Arena court would be named "The Summitt." UT President John Petersen and Lady Vols athletic director Joan Cronan handled the presentation.

Summitt, who had done a masterful job of shielding her players from any distractions surrounding her quest, was totally caught off guard.

"I had no idea,'' she said. "It really touches me. It's a tremendous honor. I never even thought of anything like that ever.

"I don't think there could've been a better gift in terms of the feelings I have and how I love this university.''

UT's procession to the postgame festivities and a spot opposite Texas Tech in Sunday's regional semifinals played out in determined but halting fashion before a crowd of 13,188.

Reserve center Tye'sha Fluker made the crucial difference by scoring 14 of her game-high 18 points in the second half. She also gathered a team-high 10 rebounds.

Shyra Ely, who kissed the court during the victory celebration, scored 16. Shanna Zolman added 15.

Purdue (17-13) stood in the way of history as long and defiantly as it could. But too many Boilermaker turnovers (26) and not enough second-half baskets (4) doomed their chances.

Point guard Sharika Webb characterized Purdue's effort. She just missed a triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine turnovers.

"Honestly I thought she battled all night,'' Purdue coach Kristy Curry said. "They were effort turnovers.''

No. 9 seed Purdue had its way early with the game's pace, trading baskets with top-seed Tennessee (28-4) at a manageable pace.

Two quick baskets by Zolman, the second a 3-pointer, started UT's first attempted breakaway.

Tennessee center Nicky Anosike then struck on both ends of the floor in a matter of seconds. First she blocked Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton's baseline jumper in resounding fashion, as if she was plucking an apple from a tree.

Anosike hustled up the floor to be on the receiving end of Loree Moore's pass for a layup.

Just like that, UT had forged ahead, 18-10.

The Boilermakers aided Tennessee's cause with 16 first-half turnovers. They committed three in a row at one point, helping the Lady Vols push their advantage into double figures.

Tennessee's biggest first-half lead was 37-23 with 3:17 left, after the second of consecutive 3-pointers by Moore.

When the Boilermakers weren't coughing up the basketball, they were shooting and rebounding well enough to be a game foe.

They showed as much in quick fashion as well, cobbling together a scoring run before halftime and cutting UT's lead to 37-32 after Aya Traore's 3-pointer.

Tennessee needed a Fluker rebound basket to stop the charge and go to the break with a shred of its momentum left.

The Lady Vols built their advantage back into double figures while Purdue tried to subsist on just two baskets in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Six straight points by Fluker pushed UT's lead to 64-44 with 6:36 left.

History awaited Summitt. Grasping its significance, though, might take a while longer.

"I don't think you can exactly understand the magnitude of it,'' Zolman said. "I think you have to wait a couple years. I will.''

In the meantime, it's on to Philadelphia.

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