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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, April 8, 1996
THE GAME HAD BEEN OVER FOR AN HOUR, THE CHAMPIONSHIP rings long since handed out and the cheering temporarily quieted, but Tennessee coach Pat Summitt still clutched a basketball net tightly in her right hand. Michelle Marciniak, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, wore the other Charlotte Coliseum net around her neck. After the Lady Vols' 83-65 drubbing of Georgia in the NCAA title game on March 31, neither player nor coach could believe that the crown they had expected to win at the end of the 1994-95 season had finally arrived. Better late than never. "In a week," Summitt said, "I'll probably still be shaking my head, saying, 'Did this really happen?' "
The Tennessee-Georgia final marked the second time two Southeastern Conference teams have met for the NCAA championship ( Tennessee beat Auburn in 1989) and the first time the women's final has drawn more spectators than the men's. A crowd of 23,291—the largest to watch an NCAA women's final—attended the game in the Queen City. Only 19,229 could be accommodated at the Meadowlands, site of Monday night's men's final.
The Lady Vols had been waiting for this title chance since March 1995, when Rebecca Lobo and Connecticut knocked them off in the final. Playing with poise and precision, Tennessee shut down a Georgia team that had been averaging 82 points a game this season. Lady Vols forward Chamique Holdsclaw—the country's top freshman—scored 16 points and pulled down a team-leading 14 rebounds. Sophomore center Tiffani Johnson added 16 points. Marciniak, a senior point guard, contributed 10 points and five assists.
The Lady Vols' 18-point margin of victory was the second largest in NCAA women's championship history. Tennessee also owns the record for the most lopsided title triumph, a 67-44 win over Louisiana Tech in 1987. That victory earned the Vols their first crown and began what has become the closest thing to a dynasty in women's basketball.
Overseeing the success has been Summitt, who took the Tennessee job in 1974, at age 22, so she could support herself while training for the 1976 Olympic team. Now she's mentioned as a candidate every time the Tennessee men's basketball job opens up, but taking that position would mean a cut in pay. She's such a hit that Nashville musician Clifford Curry, a popular practitioner of "beach music," recently released a tune called Pat Summitt, Dat Gummitt, which was getting airplay in the Music City before the Lady Vols even entered the tournament. By now it has probably gone platinum. Only UCLA legend John Wooden, with 10, has won more NCAA basketball championships than Summitt.
Four years ago, when Marciniak decided she wanted to transfer to Tennessee from Notre Dame, Summitt asked her why. "Because I want to play for someone I think is the best coach in the country, and I want to have an opportunity to win a national championship," she replied.
The move proved to be a net gain for Marciniak, in more ways than one.