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1991: JUST TOUGHER THAN THE REST
Hank Hersch
April 17, 2008
"PLAYING FOR PAT," THE LADY VOLS GUTTED OUT AN OT WIN OVER VIRGINIA
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April 17, 2008

1991: Just Tougher Than The Rest

"PLAYING FOR PAT," THE LADY VOLS GUTTED OUT AN OT WIN OVER VIRGINIA

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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, April 8, 1991

THE NINE HONOREES STOOD ON THE DAIS IN THE HYATT Regency ballroom in New Orleans, acknowledged for their achievements in the initial 10 years of the NCAA women's Final Four, as Nora Lynn Finch, who was the first chairperson of the NCAA Women's Basketball Committee, approached the microphone. "As we stand up here," she said, "we are reflecting an era." Finch paused a moment and then singled out a particular luminary: "Does that make you feel old, Pat? To be reflecting an era?"

The Pat in question was Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, and she let her Lady Volunteers deliver her reply three days later before 7,865 folks at Lakefront Arena. There, Tennessee responded to all the thrusts of a quicksilver Virginia team and gutted out a 70-67 overtime victory, the Lady Vols' third national title in the last five seasons. In just a decade, the 38-year-old Summitt has earned more NCAA championship titles than any coach but UCLA's John Wooden, Kentucky's Adolph Rupp and Indiana's Bob Knight. She has deployed a total of 37 players since 1981-82; 27 of them now wear championship rings.

One constant in Summitt's 17 seasons at Tennessee has been the Lady Vols' ferocious post play, which saps opponents' wills and weakens their knees. (Summitt's assistants use football tackling dummies to toughen up their kids in practice, and the Lady Vols even take the dummies on the road, discreetly concealed in garment bags.) But while 6' 3" All-America center Daedra Charles came up big in the final (19 points, 12 rebounds), the knockout shots were delivered from the outside by Dena Head, a junior guard from Canton, Mich.

Head, who scored 28 points and grabbed nine rebounds, epitomizes the Lady Vols' toughness, and it showed down the stretch of the championship game.

With Virginia holding a 60-55 edge with 1:25 to play, Head got help from a high screen to break free for a left-side bank shot and a foul to make it a three-point play. After Virginia's 5' 6" guard Dawn Staley, the nation's consensus player of the year, came down and missed a wild runner, Head penetrated once again at the other end and was hammered by Staley with seven seconds to play. Head drilled both free throws to tie the game at 60. Then Staley made one last mad end-to-end dash, shaking past Head and barreling into the lane. With her left hand cradling the ball, she had a clear path to the basket that would give Virginia the national championship. But Head hadn't quit. "The only thing I could do was try to block her shot from behind," she said. "I just got a small piece of the ball, but that small piece prevented it from going in." Acknowledged Staley, "It was just a great defensive play."

The overtime had drama, too, but Head continued to sink clutch shot after clutch shot. "One thing she kept saying to me was, 'Daedra, this is for you,' " said Charles, the team's lone senior. "That made it even sweeter, because she wasn't just playing for Dena. She was playing for me, playing for the university, playing for Pat."

Hmm, playing for Pat. Sounds like a good way to win a national title.

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