Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Simply the Best: Lady Vols depressurize Boilermakers to get win 880 for Summitt

KNOXVILLE -- Pat Summitt emphatically stepped where no man has ever gone Tuesday night.

The 31-year matriarch of the Tennessee Lady Vols picked up career victory No. 880 -- one more than North Carolina's Dean Smith -- to stamp her name atop the NCAA's basketball record books. Summitt's Tennessee team, the No. 1 seed in the Philadelphia region, dismissed No. 9 seed Purdue, 75-54, before a jubilant crowd of 13,188 inside Thompson-Boling Arena in the second-round NCAA Women's Tournament contest. Tennessee advances to face Texas Tech Sunday afternoon at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia.

School officials, led by UT President Dr. John Petersen and women's athletics director Joan Cronan, informed Summitt -- her name never more appropriate --immediately following the landmark victory that the Thompson-Boling floor was to be renamed "The Summitt."

"I had no idea," said Summitt, her 880-171 lifetime mark and six national championships easily set the standard in college basketball. "And when I heard it, it just really touches me. It's a tremendous honor. I just never even thought about anything like (the court bearing her name). Ever. I don't think there could have been a better gift in terms of just the feeling that I had and how much I love this university and how much I appreciate the vote of confidence. This is very touching, and I just want to thank all of those who have been behind our program for many years. To present that is just an incredible, incredible honor for me personally and to my family as well."

A family atmosphere has defined the Summitt Era. The raucous crowd was filled with former players and assistant coaches. It's what Summitt pointed to in her postgame press conference. It's what husband R.B. believes separates the Lady Vols' household.

"Pat has always run things, like she said in the interview, she's become more like her mother (Hazel), which is the keeper of family," he said. "You have your closest friends and your worst enemies sometimes in your own family. They're the ones that you love, and they can hurt you the most. But then over time, when hardship occurs or anguish, they pull together, and there's nothing that supports you like that.

"I think that's been one of the cornerstones -- if not the cornerstone. It's never been Coach Summitt. It's been Pat. And I think that's from the very, very early the days, the vision that she had of the way things should work."

Fans roared approval with each Lady Vol basket; reveled when Tennessee's advantage quickly swelled to double figures, 27-17, scarcely 10 minutes into the second-round matchup of the NCAA Women's Tournament. Gasped when Purdue whittled its deficit to just five points 60 seconds before the intermission.

It was as though the Thompson-Boling Arena crowd created an extension of the 11 Lady Vols and four assistant coaches charged with securing Pat Summitt's 880th win -- the triumph that inscribed her name atop the NCAA annals.

Though the Lady Vols (28-4) raced to a double-digit lead just moments into their second-round matchup with Purdue, things hardly worked as Summitt had wanted. The Boilermakers (17-13) outrebounded Tennessee and shot 45.2 percent (14-of-31) from the floor in the opening half.

But Summitt -- reinforcing her reputation for making game-changing halftime adjustments -- witnessed a different effort from her team in the second half. Purdue managed just four field goals, finished with 26 turnovers and saw its rebounding edge transformed into a small deficit (42-40).

"We played in spurts at time, but it was good enough to advance," she said. "That's what you try to do in the postseason. I'm proud of this team and proud for this team. But we'll start thinking about Texas Tech immediately."

Tye'Sha Fluker paced Tennessee's quartet of double-figure scorers. The junior center posted a double/double, emerging off the bench to lead all scorers with 18 points and snaring 10 rebounds. Shyra Ely added 16, Shanna Zolman 15 and Nicky Anosike 11.

"You kind of have to just separate from the point in time and just play in the moment," said Ely, who briefly serenaded her coach on the dais with "Simply the Best."

"I think it was in the back of our minds, of course. You look in the crowd and see (signs for) 880. But you just separate it and live in the moment and take care of business."

That's the Lady Vols in the opening round of the NCAAs -- taking care of business better than Elvis Presley. The win over Purdue lifted Tennessee to a perfect 36-0 in first- and second-round games. Summitt's charges have reached the Sweet Sixteen in each of its 24 years.

"I'm excited this basketball team is headed to Philadelphia," Summitt said. "I appreciate the fact we managed to get it done."

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