Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Summitt leads Tennessee to consecutive national championships, moves closer to Wooden’s mark

TAMPA, Fla. — Pat Summitt climbed the ladder with a pair of scissors, grabbed what was left of the dangling net with one hand and started cutting with the other.

She needed three tries to slice her way through—hardly looking like a coach who had done the same thing so many times before.

When she finally finished, she waved the net high above her head and blew a kiss to the crowd. The Tennessee faithful responded with one of the loudest ovations of the night.

Summitt and the Lady Vols were champions again.

National champs. Repeat champs. Eight-time champs.

“People say all the time, ‘It is so hard to win a championship,”’ Summitt said. “Last year was hard. This year was hard. I just feel I’ve been so blessed to have an opportunity to coach at a university that really cares about our program, all the programs.”

Shannon Bobbitt and Nicky Anosike set the tone early, Candace Parker took over late and Tennessee thumped Stanford 64-48 in the women’s national championship game Tuesday night.

All of them got a souvenir to take home, a little piece of nylon that will last forever and elicit fond memories of winning it all.

For Summitt, it was another one to add to her already-impressive collection. Now, she’s two championships shy of tying John Wooden’s NCAA record—well within reach for a program that is one of the favorites to win the championship every year.

“I guess I’m along for the ride,” Summitt said. “They took me on a great one this time. And as long as I love the game, I’ll stay in it. Do I have a desire to try to beat Coach Wooden’s record? No. I just want to help the next team, next year, get back to the Final Four. That’s always our goal every year.

“And as long as I can be effective as a teacher and coach, that’s what I want to do. The day I walk in the gym and I don’t have the passion is the day I give it up.”

Summitt had plenty of drive in this one.

She devised a pressing, trapping scheme that Stanford didn’t see in the teams’ first meeting in December and didn’t expect in the rematch.

She had the 5-foot-2 Bobbitt chasing Stanford’s guards all over the court and Anosike wreaking havoc with her long arms and 6-foot-4 frame. Together, they helped force the Cardinal into 25 turnovers—no question the difference in the game.

“A lot of people underestimate our defense,” Parker said. “And when you get on the court with us, it’s a little bit different than what you see on TV or anything like that.”

Parker finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four steals, proving why she’s a lock to be the top pick in Wednesday’s WNBA draft.

Anosike added 12 points, eight rebounds and six steals. She hit an open jumper shortly after the opening tip and then scored in a variety of ways around the basket. She had putbacks, free throws and even finished a baseline drive with a nifty reverse layup.

“My mind-set going into the game was I wasn’t going home without a championship,” Anosike said. “If we lost, I was going to live here because I wasn’t going back home. No one was going to deny me a national championship, and I did whatever I needed to do to make sure we won.”

Bobbitt did her part, too.

She hit consecutive 3-pointers in the opening minutes that gave Tennessee all the cushion it needed to end Stanford’s 23-game winning streak. Bobbitt made another 3 late in the first half and was instrumental in running Tennessee’s offensive and defensive sets all night.

Parker took over in the second half, mostly after Stanford stopped double- and triple-teaming the AP Player of the Year.

The celebration started with a little more than a minute to play. Summitt subbed out most of her stars, waited for the final buzzer and then frolicked with her players while confetti dropped all around.

“Obviously this is a very special night for our program and for our basketball team,” Summitt said. “I’m just really proud. It’s a happy, but sad time with the seniors leaving. But I will always have tremendous respect for the mark they left on our basketball program.”

None of Tennessee’s starters will be around next year, leaving Summitt with a roster filled with youngsters and maybe her toughest challenge.

Then again, it might provide the Hall of Fame coach with the icy stare another chance to cut down the nets. Maybe this time, she’ll make it look as routine as she does winning championships.

“All of us put our trust in Pat Summit when we came to the University of Tennessee, and she’s been obviously more than a coach to us and she’ll be more than a coach to me for the rest of my life,” Parker said. “You play for her … because she’s been such an inspiration and just for the game of women’s basketball.”

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