With 1,000 wins, Summitt looking at next goal
Not when she’s thinking of adding to the eight national titles she’s already got.
“We may be young, and we may be inexperienced, but our goal is to be in St. Louis at the Final Four,” said Summitt, still covered with confetti dumped from the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena at the end of Tennessee’s 73-43 win over Georgia that got her that milestone win Thursday night.
After back-to-back seasons with national championships, Summitt found herself with the youngest Lady Volunteers squad she’s ever fielded and needing 17 wins to reach her next benchmark.
It’s been a challenging three months for coach and team. Summitt has harped on her players for not giving full effort for a full 40 minutes.
“This year, we’ve had a few challenges, if you’ve noticed,” she said.
She’s worked hard to help these Lady Vols grow up in a hurry, making them launder their own practice clothes and ramping up the intensity at practices — only to have them blow a 15-point lead in losing 80-70 at No. 2 Oklahoma on Monday in her first shot at the 1,000th win.
Summitt joked several times this week she wasn’t sure Tennessee could get enough wins to reach 1,000 before the season was over.
That’s when the No. 12 Lady Vols (17-5, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) gave her what she dubbed the best 40-minute effort of the season.
“It was a good win for us, but I think the thing we’re most excited about was we played a 40-minute game,” senior forward Alex Fuller said.
Fuller, the team’s only upperclassman, hit her first five shots, scoring nine of the first 11 points of the game against Georgia (15-8, 5-3).
Fuller scored on a fast-break layup with 14:52 left in the first half that gave the Lady Vols a 13-12 lead and started them on a 9-0 run to take control of the game.
When Fuller cooled off, a freshman stepped up to keep Tennessee from losing its lead as Glory Johnson scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“I think maybe we grew up a little bit, but I’m proud of how they played,” Summitt said. “They could’ve felt a lot of pressure. I told them the only thing I wanted them to do was focus on we needed another SEC victory.”
That’s because Summitt is already focused on her next goals. First, a strong run in the SEC en route to another high seeding in the NCAA tournament.
Despite already having seven losses and games remaining against No. 11 Florida, No. 4 Duke and No. 20 Vanderbilt, another national championship isn’t improbable.
The 1996-97 squad entered the NCAA tournament with 10 losses and a No. 3 seed, Tennessee’s lowest in more than two decades, and made an unexpected run to win the title.
And Summitt thinks with a little bit of focus, even this year’s lineup of young Lady Vols could achieve the same.
“I think you’ve got a vision, you have to talk about that vision. We have a vision, and that’s where we want to be,” she said.