By MARTIN FENNELLY | The Tampa Tribune
TAMPA, Fla. - You’d think by now they’d bring their own ladders.
That was Tennessee at the Forum on Tuesday night, making its familiar climb, to the rocky top of women’s college basketball. For the eighth time, Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols ended their season by hitting nothing but nets, and cutting them down.
Remember two years ago, when some thought Tennessee’s run was done? They’d gone eight seasons without adding to their six national championships. UConn had seized the high ground with title after title. UConn coach Geno Auriemma circled Summitt’s throne like a shark. Everyone seemed to be gaining. Purdue, Notre Dame, Baylor and Maryland won titles, too.
Then a funny thing happened.
The world turned orange again.
And now they’re back to back.
Stanford didn’t stop Tennessee as it won it second consecutive championship, 64-48. The first women’s Final Four in Tampa was won by the First Lady and First Women of college sports.
Never mind that Tennessee nearly lost to Texas A&M in the Elite Eight. Or that it took a miracle putback basket with less than a second left to lift the Lady Vols past LSU in the national semifinals. There they were Tuesday, making the climb they know by heart.
Mama Orange watched it all.
Gaining On Wooden
Her 983rd victory complete, Pat Summitt, the all-time winner in college basketball, watched her players dance. She’s up to eight titles, two behind John Wooden. Pat’s gaining.
And to think, the big story at this Final Four was going to be a championship game between defending champ Tennessee and No. 1 UConn, between Pat and Geno, the same Geno who just two years ago trailed Pat only 6-5 in championships.
The big game never happened. Stanford saw to that, beating UConn in the semifinals. Tennessee saw to the rest. But even after UConn-Tennessee was dead, someone asked Pat about Geno, asked her why she decided this season to drop Tennessee’s series with UConn. People still wanted to know. Summitt said it was a fair question, but …
“It doesn’t mean that I’m going to reveal anything. But that’s just me. When I make my mind up, I’m as stubborn as my father was.”
Her real answer came Tuesday, when her players climbed those ladders.
They took apart Stanford just as they dismantled Rutgers in last season’s championship game, slowly, methodically, with pressure defense that suffocated, with offense that capitalized.
The wondrous Candace Parker, playing with that bad shoulder, had a game-high 17 points and nine rebounds. Also coming up big was 5-foot-2 Tennessee guard Shannon Bobbitt, who hit three first-half 3-pointers. Center Nicky Anosike had 12 points, eight boards and six steals. Alexis Hornbuckle, who hit the winning putback to beat LSU, joined teammate Alberta Auguste to lead the defense that suffocated Stanford star Candice Wiggins, who managed just 14 points on 6-for-16 shooting.
And there was Mama Orange.
She Got It Done
Pat Summitt hasn’t changed that much from that driven Tennessee farm girl who fought her brothers for rebounds in the hayloft ball court after chores were done. She’s the same lady who went into labor with her only child during a Pennsylvania recruiting trip, but insisted on flying back to Tennessee, because no one was going to tell her she couldn’t have her boy back in Rocky Top.
Patricia Head Summitt was talking about her late father Monday. She called her folks the two hardest-working people she’s ever known. Pat’s 82-year-old mom, Hazel, was on the court Tuesday night, sitting in her wheelchair and holding the national championship trophy as her girl’s girls snipped the nets. Hazel wanted to be out there in the crush. She’s also sort of stubborn.
Monday, Pat Summitt told about the time she was young and her dad took her to a hayfield on the family dairy farm and told his Tricia to bale it. “Dad, I’ve never done that,” she said. Her father answered, “Well, you’re going to do it today.” And she did. She climbed on the tractor. “And I got it done,” Summitt said.
She got it done again Tuesday night. Yeah, maybe the others are gaining on Tennessee. It’s not a completely orange world anymore. You wouldn’t know it by Tuesday. It belonged to the Lady Vols.
Yeah, they’re stubborn, too.