Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Summitt new Dean of NCAA coaches

KNOXVILLE — Pat Summitt has always been at the summit of women's college basketball.

Now, you can go ahead and take out the word women's.

The storied women's basketball coach at Tennessee collected her 880th career win last night to pass former North Carolina coach Dean Smith as the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history.

A rowdy group of 13,188 fans — and they weren't all wearing orange either — watched as top-seeded Tennessee beat Purdue 75-54 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Most of those fans stuck around to see the court at Thompson-Boling Arena named for Summitt during the postgame celebration.

''I just want to thank all those that have been behind our basketball program for years,'' Summitt said. ''To present that is just an incredible honor for me and for my family.''

This win looked pretty similar to the first 879.

Summitt glared at players and officials alike. She crossed her arms. She knelt. She yelled. She stomped. She paced.

And like she usually does, she won.

''I think it is a little bit of a relief, but at the same time, we never lost our focus about where we're at and what we're trying to accomplish,'' UT freshman Alexis Hornbuckle said. ''We weren't really focusing on 880. We were focusing on another win to advance.''

Summitt fought back tears after the game when a blue drape was pulled off a placard revealing that the arena's court will now be known as ''The Summitt.'' There will be a tan logo to the right of halfcourt that says ''The Summitt'' in orange lettering with ''Knoxville, Tennessee'' in white underneath.

''I had no idea,'' Summitt said. ''When I heard it, it just really touches me. It's a tremendous honor. I never even thought about anything like that ever. I don't think there could have been a better gift.''

The Lady Vols (28-4) tried to take the nerves out of the historic night as early as they could, but the Boilermakers (17-13) looked like they would love nothing more than to spoil the night for Summitt.

It wasn't until the Lady Vols opened the second half on a 12-2 run for a 49-34 lead that the outcome appeared no longer in doubt.

''It was in the back of all our minds of course,'' said UT senior Shyra Ely, who scored 15 points. ''We were reminded of it all week, and you look in the crowd and see 880.''

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