TAMPA, Fla. — Thirty-four seasons ago, after Pat Summitt had coached her first game at Tennessee, she phoned home.
“Did you win?” her father, Richard Head, asked.
“No sir, we got beat.”
“By how much?”
There was a long pause, and as Summitt feared that her father would blame her, he said: “Let me just tell you one thing, Trisha. Don’t take donkeys to the Kentucky Derby.”
The message was a valuable one: The best coaches had the best players. Tennessee (36-2) clearly did Tuesday night in winning its second consecutive national championship and eighth over all with a 64-48 victory over Stanford.
It also had the best coach. Summitt unnerved Stanford (35-4) with a ravenous trap, stretching the Cardinal’s triangle offense into geometric dysfunction. The Lady Vols forced 25 turnovers and center Nicky Anosike grabbed 6 steals at the point of Tennessee’s defensive pressure.
From the beginning, the Lady Vols played with a toughness and determination reflective of their coach. Forward Alberta Auguste restricted Stanford’s Candice Wiggins into 14 inconsequential points. Candace Parker, widely regarded as the best women’s player in the country, played with fierce elegance despite the hindrance of a dislocated shoulder, delivering 17 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals.
Point guard Shannon Bobbitt (13 points) drilled three early 3-pointers for the Lady Vols, providing a 30-19 lead that was never seriously threatened. Anosike, a fellow New Yorker and a senior, saved her best game for last with 12 points, 8 rebounds and a steadying hand.
“I always preach defense and boards win championships,” Summitt said. “They bought in.”
The Lady Vols also drew motivation from a perceived slight — the prediction by many pundits that Stanford would win.
“I told them we might go in as underdogs, but we were going to come out as top dogs,” Summitt said.
She has won 983 career games, more than any man or woman coaching college basketball. Her eight titles are as many as Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski have won combined. Two more will match the 10 won by John Wooden at U.C.L.A.
In two months, Summitt will turn 56. She said retirement would come when she began to dread practice, which she loves. Summitt took an apparent shot at Knight, who departed Texas Tech in February, saying that when she walked away, “I don’t think I’ll do it in the middle of the season.”
Still, the years as a pioneering player and coach and defender of family pets have begun to take an inexorable toll. As she spoke to reporters Monday, Summitt wore ice bags on both knees. Last month, she dislocated a shoulder while forearming a raccoon off her deck in Knoxville, after the critter threatened one of her Labrador retrievers.
True to her stoic nature, she tried for more than two hours to put her shoulder back in place before calling the doctor.
“Never saw the raccoon again,” Summitt said. “He’s probably thinking: ‘That’s the craziest woman I’ve ever met. I’m out of here.’ ”
Sometimes her players must have felt the same way.
In the past, Summitt had to have her rings re-rounded in the off-season after pounding her hands on the court in moments of irritation. Her icy stare is legendary. Her upbraiding of players on the sideline and in the locker room can be blistering. This season, Summitt questioned her team’s commitment to play intensely for a full 40 minutes, becoming livid after the Lady Vols blew a 21-2 lead at home and were routed by Louisiana State 78-62 on Feb. 14. After a team meeting, the reserve forward Alex Fuller dropped her coach a note: Everything will be O.K. This won’t happen again.
It didn’t. The Lady Vols won their final 14 games, defeating L.S.U. twice along the way, including in the national semifinals, and Tennessee again cut down the nets in a championship game.
It was another exultant moment in a career that began for Summitt as an evening diversion in a hayloft. She learned hard work on the family’s dairy farm — “Cows don’t take a day off” — baling hay, plowing tobacco fields, eating a sack lunch on her tractor. When Pat and her brother, Tommy, finished their chores, a few neighborhood kids came over, lights were turned on in the hayloft and the knockdown, drag-out games of two-on-two and one-on-one commenced.
“They would just run over me,” Summitt said. “But that was O.K.”
After eighth grade, her father moved the family to the next county so Pat could continue to play basketball. At home, girls were prohibited from playing in high school, Summitt said, after one female player ran into a wall after making a layup and died.
Richard Head withheld his affection for his daughter, Summitt has said many times, but he never stood in her way as she chose basketball as her career. He died three years ago, but Hazel Head, Pat’s 84-year-old mother, was on hand Tuesday night, rawhide tough herself despite seven operations on her ankle.
“My inspiration,” Summitt said.