that this title run felt different from the others. "I feel a real
commitment to this team, and it's not about one person," she said outside
the locker room after the game. "It's all about this team. They want to win
championships as much as any team I've coached in a long time, and they've
demonstrated it through their commitment to defense and rebounding. They have
great chemistry, and they are fun to coach. And we have Candace Parker. We
haven't had a big go-to player since [Chamique] Holdsclaw and [Tamika]
Catchings, when we won our last championship. And they've accepted Candace. I'm
not convinced that type of support was there a year ago. They were trying to do
individual things. Now it's a team, and it's a big difference."
It was a team,
true, but with Parker's winning Kodak All-America honors and the Wade Trophy on
March 31—and with rumors persisting, despite her unequivocal denials, that she
might declare for the WNBA draft the day after the final—the spotlight remained
on her. The day before the final she talked about how she didn't want to be
discussed as one of the Lady Vols greats until she had cut down a net in April.
"I want my legacy to be that we hung banners during my career," she
says. "All of us came here to win championships. And we haven't done that
opponent, No. 4 seed Rutgers, had never won an NCAA title, and neither had its
legendary coach, C. Vivian Stringer, though she had taken three different teams
to the Final Four in three decades. This particular group of Scarlet Knights
was an unlikely finals participant: With no seniors and five freshmen, the team
had struggled at the outset. It was only after Stringer took away their
practice gear and locked them out of their plush locker room in January that
the players started to coalesce and play the team defense she expected. In
their first five games of the tournament they had been a revelation, beating
fifth-seeded Michigan State on the Spartans' home floor in the second round and
holding top-ranked Duke's All-America, Lindsey Harding, to five points in the
Sweet 16. In their semifinal against LSU they had treated the Lady Tigers' 6'
6" star center, Sylvia Fowles, just as ruthlessly, holding her to five
points in a stunning 59–35 blowout.
If the Lady Vols
were concerned about Rutgers's vaunted defense, they weren't letting on.
"We've played the toughest schedule in the country and have had a variety
of different looks," Parker said. "I'm not really concerned. We need to
come in and not necessarily focus on what they're going to do to us but on
playing Tennessee basketball."
To emphasize that
point in the locker room before the final, Lady Vols assistant coach Dean
Lockwood took a baseball bat—symbolizing Basics, Attitude and Team—and smashed
a Rutgers-LSU game tape to bits. "That game doesn't matter anymore!" he
cried. Lockwood, who calls himself a frustrated English major, also read a poem
he had written to encourage the players to embrace the warrior mentality.
performance wasn't enough, Tennessee had plenty more inspiration sitting in the
stands. Among the hundreds of Lady Vols fans in attendance were members of past
Tennessee championship teams, including several players who had been part of
the first, in 1987. When members of that team had gathered for a 20th reunion
in February, they visited the current team and told stories about how close
they were and still are, and how great it felt to win. "In 20 years we want
to be able to come back and have our banner in the rafters and be able to
celebrate and tell famous Pat stories," said Parker. "We'll roll her in
in a wheelchair."
Tennessee's victory over Louisiana Tech in the '87 final, the Lady Vols
required great defense, superior rebounding and a team effort to beat Rutgers
59–46 and win their seventh national title. Midway through the first half
Tennessee took control of the game, going on a 17–6 run to stretch the lead to
29–18 by halftime. Auguste, a reserve forward, was the star of the run, scoring
eight of her 10 points and grabbing four rebounds. Bobbitt, her fellow junior
college transfer, would star in a second-half run, hitting three of her four
three-pointers in less than three minutes, helping to push the score to 46–30
with 10 minutes to go.
At 5' 2",
Bobbitt gave up seven inches to Scarlet Knights freshman point guard Epiphanny
Prince, her former teammate at Murry Bergtraum High in New York City. Yet
Bobbitt easily outplayed her, notching 13 points, three rebounds and three
steals to Prince's three rebounds, two assists and two free throws. Meanwhile,
Anosike was a steady menace on the boards, grabbing 10 of her 16 rebounds off
the offensive glass. (As a team Tennessee had 42 rebounds—24 on offense—to
Rutgers's 34.) Beset by double and triple teams all night, Parker still dropped
in 17 points, pulled in seven rebounds and got to show off her most overlooked
skill, passing out of the double team, hitting Anosike in the paint for a layup
here and Bobbitt in the corner for a three there. "You are witnessing the
best player in the world," Stringer would say later of Parker. "There
is nobody who comes close to her."
Yet this win was
also proof that there is a lot more to the Lady Vols than the Candace Parker
Show. Shelley Sexton Collier, the captain of that 1987 team, was struck by the
similarities between her team and this one. "There's a toughness," she
said, "and you can tell they are close. They really are a team."
Tennessee's title drought came to an end, after nine years. As Summitt climbed
the ladder as champion for the first time this century, the passage of time was
marked in part by this detail: In order for her son, Tyler, to ascend with her
as he had on every such occasion since he was born in 1990, a second ladder
needed to be positioned under the rim for him. "Last time I was small
enough to stand on the same ladder with her," said Tyler, now 16. "Now
I'm too big."