Before the tip-off, the Vols seemed charged by the surge of the home crowd. The visitors, meanwhile, showed little more excitement than they would over, say, a large order of fries at Wendy's. "We try to stay cool, calm and collected, like Miss Conradt," said guard Beverly Williams. Their coach was indeed just that. A Vanderbilt grad student was monitoring the pulses of both coaches for an experiment, and in a pregame greeting, Conradt snuck a glance at the meters. Summitt's pulse was pounding at a rate of 127 beats a minute; Conradt's was a mere 94.
The Vols were in trouble from the outset, frazzled more by Texas's pressure than by the eyes of Tennessee upon them. Texas senior Yulonda Wimbish harassed Edwards into a furious pace. "Her hands were all over me," Edwards said. "I was trying to protect the ball and see the players, and I got into rushing." Edwards missed early and often, finishing with four frustrating points. Wimbish, who scored 18, is, like most of her cohorts, state-of-the-art in matter-of-fact. "My defensive mentality?" she asks. "Get in their shirt."
Wimbish's roommate, Davis, meanwhile, was having no trouble finding a flow. Her shot is effortless ("Everything has been easy for me") and her explosiveness always evident ("Sometimes I laugh on the court because I can't believe what I do"). As a freshman two seasons ago, she was tagged as being "out of control" by Conradt, who is now happy to redefine the term. "If I could run as fast as she can run, and jump as high as she can jump, I'd be out of control all the time," Conradt admits. "It looks like an awful lot of fun."
When Davis was growing up in San Antonio, she sharpened her game by taking on an aunt who played for Way-land Baptist, and she became a point guard for John Jay High. Today she is one of the rare female players with the strength and hangtime to follow a shot for a tip-in. She can reach five inches above the basket but can't dunk because her hands are too small. Still, she can see where she—and the game—is going. "In 10 years I'll be an announcer, Clarissa Vitale, and I'll be saying, 'What a dunk! Can you believe it?' "
The present looks bright enough for Davis, who scored 12 points in the first 10:29 as the Lady Longhorns went ahead 28-13. Tennessee, led by 6'4" Sheila Frost (21 points), scratched back to make it 41-38 with 1:23 left in the half. But then Davis hit a layup off a steal; Davis drove from the wing, was fouled and converted two free throws; and Davis ripped one of her team-high eight rebounds, passed to Pennee Hall, and slapped her palms to the floor with glee as Hall's 35-foot, three-point heave beat the buzzer.
"We're not real emotional like other teams," Wimbish said. "We just sit back and observe. If something really good happens, then we'll acknowledge it. Like that." Tennessee never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.
"Clarissa was amazing," Summitt said. "She's so tough without the ball she can get in position for high-percentage shots. We didn't make it easy for her, but her concentration was outstanding. She's a money player." Davis literally shot the lights out during a 10-minute stretch in the second half. She hit six of eight, and a power outage dimmed Texas's side of the court. "I felt more focus tonight than I ever had before," said Davis. For the game she hit 16 of 27 from the field. Her career shooting percentage is .642, and she has shot 77.5% in nine NCAA tournament games. If she gets any more focused, somebody will have to call Guinness again.
The folks at the World Records Museum probably have their eyes on Conradt already. Now in her 19th season—12 of them at Texas—she has won 80.9% of her games, and her 476 victories are the most by an active women's coach. A native of Texas, Conradt found little counsel available early in her career as an aspiring coach. So she sent $5 to North Carolina coach Dean Smith for a mimeographed handout on the run-and-jump defense—which Texas still uses rather ferociously. Conradt remains bent on winning, but she's equally determined to promote her sport.
"To be in a setting where we're able to draw fans has probably kept me in the profession," says Conradt, whose team drew an NCAA-record 6,639 fans per game at home last year. "The time of women's basketball has arrived, and I honestly mean it when I say the biggest pressure in this game is that I have to put on a good show. We don't have to play flawlessly, but play with intensity and be credible. It's exciting to be where we are. I used to say if there were 50 people in the stands, it meant somebody's family was in town."
After the game Conradt and the Longhorns headed for an in-your-face feast at Wendy's, where the manager asked them to pose for a photo. Smiles were flashed, along with Hook-'em Horns finger signs. Conradt—and everyone else in the picture—hoped that more than a few new fans had been hooked on women's hoops.