Baylor’s unbeaten run and star Brittney Griner’s rousing slam
dunk have gotten most of the attention in Des Moines Regional.
And the coaching future of Tennessee’s Pat Summitt after this
season is still up in the air.
Top-seeded Baylor (37-0) faces Summitt and second-seeded
Tennessee (27-8) Monday night in Des Moines for a trip to the Final
If the Lady Bears win, it could mark the final time Summitt
roams the sidelines after 38 years and 1,098 wins with the Lady
Vols. Summitt announced in August she’d been diagnosed with early
onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, and has not committed to coaching
About the only folks who aren’t discussing Summitt’s future are
the Lady Vols.
Associate head coach Holly Warlick says Summitt hasn’t discussed
the situation with her or anyone else. Summitt likely won’t come to
a decision until at least a few weeks after the season, so for now
Tennessee is operating as though she’s not leaving.
”We don’t talk about it because we feel that tomorrow’s not a
guarantee for anyone. We’ve taken this whole situation with Pat one
day at a time, one game at a time, and I think (Monday) is no
different,” Warlick said. ”I think she will evaluate it, and
right now I’ll tell you she’s going to be back next year.”
After watching the Lady Bears pound Georgia Tech in the round of
16 on Saturday, Tennessee faces a challenge in handling Griner and
the Lady Bears.
Getting dunked on by Griner was the least of the Yellow Jackets’
concerns, as the Lady Bears led by as many as 38 points over a good
Georgia Tech team before coasting to an 83-68 win.
”We’re just focused right now. We’re on a mission and we’ve got
to keep it that way for the rest of the season,” Baylor forward
Destiny Williams said.
Griner finished with 35 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks, two
steals and one attention-getting two-handed dunk, but the Lady
Bears are much more than Griner.
Williams had 18 points against the Yellow Jackets, who were
outscored 54-16 in the paint. Sophomore Odyssey Sims might be among
the best point guards in the country, directing an offense that’s
beating opponents by 27.1 points a game.
”Griner’s going to get her points. But we’ve got to make sure
Odyssey Sims doesn’t go off, the other players, they don’t go off.
Because they’re just as much a part of this 37-0 team (as) Brittney
Griner,” Warlick said. ”We’re going to have to mix it up.”
The Lady Vols are back in the regional finals for their 25th
time in 31 years.
Tennessee has had an up-and-down season.
The Lady Vols have been inconsistent and lost some games they
typically win, such as against Arkansas and South Carolina in
February. They even fell behind by 14 points against 11th-seeded
Kansas in Saturday’s regional semifinal before overwhelming the
Jayhawks with their superior depth and talent.
Tennessee did give Baylor fits on Nov. 27. The Lady Vols led
33-31 in Knoxville at halftime and out-rebounded the Lady Bears by
14 before falling 76-67.
The Lady Bears are three wins away from becoming the first team
in NCAA history from finishing 40-0 – and they’re not afraid of
that pressure either.
”Everybody just says you’re the team to beat. Everybody talks
about the 40-0. Everybody has expectations, and we can choose to
fight you on it or we can choose to embrace it. And because we’re
older now, we have to embrace it. I don’t think we can hide it,”
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said.
Tennessee’s seniors have a personal goal beyond just trying to
get their coach back to the Final Four.
The Lady Vols’ senior class will be the first four-year class in
school history to miss the Final Four if they lose to Baylor. But
they’re putting that and Summitt’s future on the backburner and
focusing on the responsibility at hand, beating Baylor.
After all, it’s a task nobody else has completed this
”We just try and stay in the present. We do think about that
stuff off the court. But when it comes to the basketball game,
that’s just what you’re focusing on,” Tennessee forward Alicia
Manning said about Summitt’s future. ”Whatever Coach Summitt plans
to do after this we support her. We’ve had her back this whole
season. She’s such a great person and she’s going leave her legacy
whether it’s this year, next year, five years down the road, 10
years down the road.”