Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Summitt breaks Smith's career victory record

The record 880th win of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's storied career came just like so many before it, with her Lady Vols swarming on defense, hitting clutch shots and an orange-clad throng of 13,188 roaring its approval through every minute of it.

The Purdue Boilermakers did their best Tuesday night to postpone NCAA basketball history, but Summitt and the Lady Vols would not be denied. The 75-54 Tennessee victory moved Summitt past Dean Smith into the No. 1 spot on the NCAA's all-time victory list and earned the Lady Vols a ticket to Philadelphia for next weekend's NCAA Tournament regional.

With her family, including her mother, and a host of former players on hand, Summitt said it was a special evening she would never forget. It became ever more so immediately after the game when university officials announced the court at Thompson-Boling Arena would hereafter be called, simply, "The Summitt."

"I've just been so blessed," she said.

Purdue, which heads home with a 17-13 final record, made a game of it for 20 minutes, trailing only 39-32 at halftime. But 24 turnovers and a 13-2 run by Tennessee to start the second half ended any dreams the Boilermakers had of being the first team to beat Tennessee on its home floor in the NCAA Tournament.

"Congratulations to coach Summitt, my goodness, I'm really happy for her," Purdue coach Kristy Curry said. "But I'm really proud of my team for how hard we fought."

Junior center Tye'sha Fluker led the Lady Vols (28-4) with 18 points, 14 in the second half, and 10 rebounds. Indiana natives Shyra Ely (Indianapolis) and Shanna Zolman (Syracuse) scored 16 and 15, respectively. Ely, playing her final home game, left to a standing ovation with a minute to go.

Junior Sharika Webb, also from Indianapolis, led the Boilermakers with 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds from her point guard position. Katie Gearlds scored 13.

LSU coach Pokey Chatman, whose team steamrolled Arizona 76-43 in Tuesday's first game, stuck around to see the moment.

"I'm just glad I'm in the building and have the opportunity to watch that," she said.

In the days leading up to the milestone achievement, Summitt deflected the credit and said the record belongs to the school that took a chance on hiring her 31 years ago, and the players and assistant coaches who have come through the program.

"There have been more Olympians and All-Americans at Tennessee than any other program," she said. "It's incredible. When you look at the history, you look at the faces. The people got it done."

The No. 1-seeded Lady Vols have played in all 24 NCAA Tournaments and have advanced past the first weekend in every one. Their next game Sunday in the Philadelphia Regional is against No. 4 seed Texas Tech.

The Lady Vols are halfway down the Road to Indianapolis for what would be Summitt's 16th Final Four. She has won six NCAA championships, the last in 1998, and her tournament record is 87-17. That includes a 46-0 record on Tennessee's home court.

Summitt said last week that all records eventually are broken, but she has an opportunity to put this one virtually out of reach. At 52, she could easily coach for another dozen years or more, which at her career rate of 28 wins a year would mean at least 300 more. And it's unlikely any other coach is going to get an opportunity to start winning games at age 22, as she did.

Summitt has mentioned growing weary of the travel the job requires but said she still loves coaching, especially during practice. She disavows interest in coaching men, an issue that has been raised again with Tennessee in need of a men's coach after firing Buzz Peterson.

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