Pat Summitt denied; Paris and Oklahoma keep her at 999 wins

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McClatchy Tribune
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
— Before a national television audience and 12,552 fans at the Ford Center, with college basketball history on the line, the drama and intrigue extended into the last minute Monday night.

But Oklahoma star Courtney Paris’ staggering streak of double-doubles ended at 112 games when she fouled out with nine points and 12 rebounds.

“That’s the only thing that we did well, huh?” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said afterward, mustering a momentary smile.

The story line, of course, was supposed to have been about a different type of history: Could Summitt, already distinguished by her eight national championships, including the last two, win her 1,000th game?

That’s why multiple balls were used in the game, each apparently destined for a different hall of fame or shrine. That’s why Brent Musburger and Bob Knight, the winningest major-college men’s coach with 902 victories, called the game.

But that possibility had evaporated much earlier, in a flurry of Tennessee turnovers that left Summitt seething most of the second half as Oklahoma built an 18-point lead on the way to an 80-70 victory.

“Trust me, I’m not concerned about a number for me,” she said. “I’m concerned about this basketball team investing in our system and not picking and choosing when they want to play hard. ... Some of those turnovers were just, quite honestly, ridiculous.”

With four players in double figures and Danielle Robinson doling out 12 assists with her 17 points, the second-ranked Sooners did nothing to diminish Summitt’s pre-game assessment of them as a team with promise of reaching the Final Four in St. Louis.

But the victory by OU (19-2) also did nothing to diminish Summitt’s place in the game, even as she tries to come to terms with a 16-5, 12th-ranked team that features four freshman starters.

OU coach Sherri Coale said Summitt’s 999-187 record was similar to Paris’ streak in that both are “incomprehensible.” Yet Summitt’s reach has been much broader, she noted, citing the crowd and national TV exposure as evidence.

“We couldn’t be here,” Coale said, adding, “You don’t do that without somebody who’s grown this game. And that somebody would be her.”

The loss, of course, only delays the inevitable for Summitt, whose singular place in the game long since has been assured.

She was known as Trish Head when she was hired by Tennessee right out of college at Tennessee-Martin 35 years ago, initially daunted by the notion of what was supposed to be an assistant coaching job.

Two weeks later, her trepidation intensified. Then-coach Margaret Hutson decided to take a sabbatical and Head was named head coach, leaving her “absolutely overwhelmed and scared to death,” as she once put it.

So much so that she didn’t object when Tennessee administrators shortened Patricia to Pat instead of the name she’d always gone by.

But she burrowed in and began creating a program from the ground up, setting up chairs and sweeping the floors before the first game she ever coached, an 84-83 loss to Mercer on Dec. 7, 1974.

Her first win came a month later. Within two years, they were flipping over like an odometer amid a streak of 32 straight 20-win-plus seasons, on course to roll over to a number no one could contemplate seeing again at this level.

The victories, though, are only a hint of the impact and influence of Summitt, who took her husband’s last name when she was married in 1980 and has maintained it since being divorced.

Among the other staggering figures that will be her legacy, Summitt has produced 111 graduates, cajoled 58 players to at least one championship ring and inspired 45 former players to become collegiate or high school coaches.

Last updated: 9:44 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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