AUSTIN -- Annually, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt organizes the nation’s most grueling schedule for her team.
“Sometimes I look at it, and it makes me sick,” Summitt said. “But I know why I do it.”
Sunday’s 67-46 victory over Texas provided one reason – the Lady Vols know how to win, even when they aren’t playing well.
Against UT, the No. 5 Lady Vols made 11 of 35 shots in the first half, and had to close in a fury to even be at a lowly 31 percent. Tennessee was 4 of 15 at the 13:42 mark, 4 of 16 two minutes later, 7 of 25 with 7:29 to play in the first half and 8 of 29 with just more than three minutes to go before the intermission.
“I think it’s really a positive for us not to shoot well, but be able to rebound, and stop (the Longhorns’) go-to players,” Tennessee phenom Candace Parker said. “It’s a real positive for us.”
Summitt agreed, and probably owed herself a small pat on the back.
“We get to play against a lot of different styles,” Summitt said of her handpicked schedule. “We get to play against some of the best players in the country.”
UT coach Jody Conradt utilizes the same philosophy. The Longhorns are finished with a back-to-back spin against Duke and the Lady Vols, both top-5 programs, and they visited New Mexico in November and will host Purdue next month.
This beat-your-head-against-the-wall nonconference strategy was one initially hatched by Conradt and Summitt. They shared the Erwin Center sidelines Sunday – a staggering 1,811 victories between them and counting – and together, that powerful duo helped sculpt the modern women’s game.
And it started with them, bringing two programs together. Sunday marked the 28th meeting between UT and Tennessee, one of the top traditional non-conference rivalries in the country. Oddly enough, though, they have never met during postseason play.
Now, you see other top programs follow the path initially forged by Summitt and Conradt. The likes of Baylor, LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma are adding some formidable opponents in November and December. It makes for better basketball, and better TV opportunities to help the women’s game grow nationwide.
So, it’s fitting that the Summitt-Conradt philosophy – one that was created early to help their two growing programs – now helps a nation full of them. That’s why they are called pioneers.