When talking about Tennessee women’s basketball, you rarely get to call anything historic; it’s pretty much all been done before. Last weekend, though, the Lady Vols rallied from the biggest deficit in school history to edge past Rutgers, 55-51. The game was a great thing for women’s basketball. It was a nationally televised, widely reported jaw-dropper between two coaches who have made the sport what it is today.
The New York Times profiled the game on Friday, mentioning that Pat Summitt and C. Vivian Stringer have been best buddies for a long time.
“She’s without question one of my best friends in the business,” Summitt said of Stringer. “She has been and hopefully always will be.”
Between the two women are over 1,800 victories and 73 seasons, but in their head-to-head matchups, Stringer can only claim two wins.
Early on in Sunday’s game, it looked like Stringer’s team would make easy work of Summitt’s young squad. They forced 11 Tennessee turnovers in 14 possessions, and jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
Stringer wasn’t the only one with a score to settle. Last season, Rutgers lost to Tennessee in Knoxville after a controversial foul was called when the buzzer probably should have already sounded. The year before, they lost to Tennessee in the NCAA National Championship game.
“We won, still,” Epiphanny Prince, Rutgers’s leading scorer, said when asked about last year’s game in Knoxville. “That’s how I see it. We won.”
Unfortunately for Rutgers, they couldn’t settle the score on Sunday. Summitt railed against her team in the locker room at halftime, and Tennessee came out and went on an unanswered 13-point run.
I only managed to catch the last 1:30 of the game when the linster frantically emailed me to tell me to capture the remote control at my house at any cost. It was the kind of dramatic nail-biter that gets featured on SportsCenter and keeps the fever growing around women’s basketball.
The victory gave Pat Summitt her 994th career win. She’s chasing no one; she already holds the records for most victories among both men and women.
After the game, Stringer told reporters: “I can lead us to the things we need to do. We, my coaching staff, we have to do better. But likewise do the people on the floor. These are all, if you will, ‘correctable errors.’ But if we learn from that, if we talk and communicate and know that we have finally decided to get a little bit better and work that much harder, and each person is contributing, then all is not lost.”
“Lost” is such a rare word in the programs of C. Vivian Stringer and Pat Summitt — except, of course, when they play one another.