Monday, March 24, 2008

Top-seeded Tennessee hoping to give Summitt another milestone with 100th NCAA win

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - To Pat Summitt, winning 100 NCAA tournament games is merely a milestone, nothing to get excited about.

Her colleagues see it as yet another mind-boggling accomplishment in Summitt's unmatched 34-year career at Tennessee.

"If I continue at the rate I'm going, I'll be 126 when that happens," said 43-year-old Sherri Coale, Oklahoma's coach. "It's almost as incomprehensible as Courtney (Paris') double-double streak."

All that stands in the way of the career victories leader becoming the first coach in Division I history — men's or women's basketball — with 100 NCAA tourney wins is a victory Tuesday night against ninth-seeded Purdue. Paris and fourth-seeded Oklahoma faces fifth-seeded Notre Dame in the nightcap.

Clearly, though, Summitt's next seemingly inevitable achievement will take center stage.

Yes, numbers can help put all this in perspective.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer rank second and fifth among all active coaches in tourney wins, and they've combined to win as many NCAA games as Summitt with 99.

The other three teams in West Lafayette for Tuesday's second-round games are all traditional powers in women's basketball and those three coaches have a combined NCAA record of 43-23.

Among men's coaches, Mike Krzyzewski's 69 tournament wins rank No. 1. Dean Smith is second at 68, and John Wooden, winner of a record 10 national championships, is third at 47. Though it should be noted that when Wooden was guiding UCLA the tournament field was far smaller.

Even Bob Knight, who won three national titles and is the career victory leader for men's coaches, has fewer than half (45) of Summitt's NCAA wins.

Yet hitting triple digits means less to Summitt than it does to others.

"I didn't even know that, but I'm not about numbers or personal accomplishments," she said. "When you do this for 34 years, it's because you love the game, you love the student-athletes and I want to help them. I look at them like daughters, like they're family. I'm not always happy with them, but then my parents weren't always happy with me, either."

Sunday night's first-round rout was a perfect example of why Summitt has had so much success.

Despite a 94-55 victory against Oral Roberts, Summitt walked into the postgame news conference and criticized her team for its sluggish first-half play. The message continued Monday when she said the Lady Vols (31-2) must play harder for more minutes against host Purdue.

Summitt singled out guard Shannon Bobbitt, calling her one of the nation's best guards when she plays hard.

Bobbitt responded: "First, I'd like to say thank you for the compliment, coach. I want to meet her expectations. We want to play hard, play to win, play Tennessee basketball."

Summitt couldn't have said it better herself.

But Tuesday night, the Lady Vols face one significant disadvantage.

Purdue, which has already lost this season to North Carolina, Connecticut and Duke, hopes a large, raucous crowd will give them a boost. The Boilermakers are 18-5 all-time in NCAA tournament games at their home venue, Mackey Arena.

They also understand it will take more than intangibles to beat the defending national champions and national player of the year candidate Candace Parker.

"We've grown over the season and we continue to grow and it's going to take more than one person to beat us," Boilermakers guard FahKara Malone said. "We'll all have to do our best to slow her down."

Tuesday's second game pits Notre Dame, which won its first two games ever at Mackey this season, against an Oklahoma squad led by last year's national player of the year, Paris.

Admittedly, the Fighting Irish (24-8) have struggled to simulate Paris and her twin sister, Ashley, in practice.

"We try our best," Notre Dame forward Erica Williamson said. "Our posts on our team try their best to be big, be physical and make each other work. That's what's important."

Keeping them off the glass will be the key for Notre Dame.

Should the Sooners win, they will be headed back to Oklahoma City for a regional semifinal showdown, possibly against Summitt's Lady Vols — _ something Coale wouldn't discuss Monday.

Instead, the talk was all about Summitt's next historic chase.

"She's amazing. It's hard to find a way to describe her because she's done so much that you just can't imagine," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said, shaking her head. "They don't have down years."

Nor do the Lady Vols have down tournaments.

"I firmly believe that if you want to survive and advance, you have to bring your defense and board play every night because that's what it takes," Summitt said. "Even in the championship game last year, it was an ugly win. But an ugly win is better than a pretty loss. When you're in the tournament, the pressure is much greater, the defense is much better and rebounding becomes a premium. That's why it's so hard to win in the tournament."

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