STORRS, Conn. -- Tennessee coach Pat Summitt collected her record-tying 879th victory Sunday in the first round over Western Carolina. Soon she will receive flowers from an old friend and rival.
"I have to call her," said Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, who cracked the 700-victory level this season. "I love her. I can't think of a better ambassador to the game. She has a special elegance."
Rutgers defeated Tennessee on Dec. 29, 65-51, and likely would have to go through the Lady Vols one more time to reach the Final Four. Tennessee is the No. 1 seed in the Philadelphia Regional.
With her next victory, Summitt will pass former North Carolina men's coach Dean Smith on the all-time victory list in college basketball.
"She is gracious in losing, humble in winning, and what people may not know, she's a compassionate person," Stringer said yesterday. "When you think about the game of basketball, Dean Smith and Pat Summitt, they deserve to have that special place."
Stringer got a good
laugh out of the assembled media when she jokingly threatened to stop speaking to Temple men's coach John Chaney, her longtime friend and mentor, because he recently gave Temple women's coach Dawn Staley tips on how to break Rutgers' press.
"I'm through. I'm not going to be his friend if he helps her," Stringer said. "I think it should count that you knew somebody before she (Staley) was even born. So I'm done."
Just kidding, just kidding.
"He just loves to share the game with whomever," Stringer said. "I don't need to know what he told her. He sent me something for my birthday (last week), so I'll let it go. If I get to Philadelphia (for the regional games), I'll say, 'Here I am, despite what you said.' He's a good man, and it doesn't surprise me at all that he would help Dawn."
Rutgers' press conference
was actually quite jolly all around. Senior guard Chelsea Newton also got some laughs when, with the ever-demanding Stringer sitting a few feet away from her, she slipped up while talking about going up against Temple.
"We're just going to go out and put together a great 20 minutes. Forty minutes -- I said 20," Newton said, as Stringer clenched her teeth in mock frustration and shook her head. "I mean a great 40-minute game."
Knights senior guard
Cappie Pondexter knows fans, especially those in Connecticut, might have an unflattering opinion of her based on her confrontation with Huskies coach Geno Auriemma at the end of the Big East Tournament final two weeks ago. But her soft voice and calm demeanor off the court speak to her true personality.
"What happened in the Big East final game definitely was a bad image -- me going to the coach, and Coach (Stringer) responding," Pondexter said. "But it's in the past. Off the court, I'm a very quiet person, and I don't really say much. I like to have fun, but on the court it's all business."
Stringer always defends Pondexter when it comes to questions of character.
"She's a very humble player. She never runs her mouth, ever," Stringer said. "A lot of people have the ability to do the things she does, and they try to make people look bad. She has never done that."
Stringer is a
Philadelphia native, so it's not surprising that Temple would have approached her about its head coaching job. But this was the late '80s, and Stringer, who was at Iowa at the time, said she too comfortable to make a move.
"(Temple alum) Bill Cosby even called and asked me if I would come to Temple," Stringer said. "But we preferred open spaces, and we had them at Iowa."
Temple is on
a 25-game winning streak, the best in the nation, but Owls junior center Candice Dupree said there is no extra pressure on Temple to beat Rutgers because of it.
"We recognize it, and we acknowledge it, but this is tournament time now," Dupree said. "We started out 0-0. Now we're 1-0, and we just have to keep going from there."
Rutgers senior guard
Nikki Jett was icing her right knee after practice, the result of aggravating an old injury in practice last week. Jett said she has some swelling in the knee but that it's been standard to ice it after games and practices while she continues to play.