NEW YORK — Pat Summitt coached against Maggie Dixon in her final game. So when the Hall of Famer got the chance to take part in an event in her honor, she jumped all over the opportunity.
“She was such a great person,” Summitt said after her fourth-ranked Lady Vols beat Rutgers 68-54 on Sunday. “We knew we were going to be facing each other in the postseason and actually wound up at the same restaurant. She had a great mind for the game. I enjoyed getting to know her. To be a part of this today meant a lot to me and we talked to our team about it as well.”
Shekinna Stricklen scored 19 points and Glory Johnson and Alyssia Brewer each added 10 points for the Lady Vols (8-0). Playing in New York at Madison Square Garden was a thrill for the Tennessee players.
“Everyone on the team was excited to play here,” Stricklen said. “It was my first time being here. They had great fans here.”
Brittany Ray scored a career-high 29 points for Rutgers (7-5).
“Brittany did everything. She took drives, long 3-point shots,” coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “She’s been bringing it.”
Sixth-ranked Baylor beat Boston College 68-55 in the doubleheader opener behind Brittney Griner’s 25 points.
Ray did all she could to help Rutgers pull off the upset. With the Scarlet Knights trailing by five at halftime, she scored 10 of the team’s first 14 points to help Rutgers close to 40-39 with 13:17 left.
“She’s a player,” Summitt said of Rutgers’ senior guard. “She can do it all. She can get to the hole and pull up.”
Tennessee clamped down defensively, holding Rutgers without a point over the next 5 minutes to take a 48-39 lead. Ray finally ended the drought with a layup, but the Scarlet Knights could get no closer.
“We didn’t recover from their run and didn’t bounce back,” Ray said.
This was the seventh straight year the two Hall of Fame coaches, who have a combined 1,845 victories, have met. The teams played twice before at Madison Square Garden almost a decade ago, with Tennessee winning both times.
“Vivian’s team is going to come at you and get in your grill,” Summitt said. “We knew what we were going to get.”
The last two meetings between the Lady Vols and Scarlet Knights were thrillers: Tennessee beat Rutgers on a controversial finish two years ago in Knoxville, and last season, the Scarlet Knights built a 20-point halftime lead only to see the Lady Vols complete the biggest comeback in school history in a 55-51 win.
On Sunday, Tennessee took a 21-7 lead, surpassing its halftime total from last year in the first 6 minutes. Rutgers rallied behind Ray, using a 9-2 spurt to cut it to 30-25 at halftime.
This was the fourth Maggie Dixon Classic in honor of the former Army coach, who died on April 6, 2006, of arrhythmia, likely caused by an enlarged heart. The inaugural Maggie Dixon Classic was held at Army in 2006—a men’s and women’s doubleheader. The Pittsburgh men, coached by Maggie’s brother Jamie, beat Western Michigan, and Ohio State routed Army. The last three have been played at Madison Square Garden.
“This has turned into one of the premier women’s events in the country,” Jamie Dixon said during a pregame ceremony honoring his sister. “She wanted some day to play at Madison Square Garden with her team. Now we have an event in her name.”
Stringer and Lieutenant Colonial Kim Kawamoto were honored before the game as the inaugural recipients of the Maggie Dixon Courage Award.