Sunday, January 11, 2009

Women's hoops breaks the Pat Summit curse, demolishes Lady Vawls

A child who grows up in East Tennessee could be forgiven if he believes that everyone in the world cheers for the Volunteers from the University [sic] of Tennessee.

Unlike the childhood experiences of a young Alabamians, Mississippians, Georgians, etc., there has been only one, dominant Division I state school in the State of Tennessee.

And there's the rub: unlike the storied rivalries of Alabama and Auburn, Ole Miss and State, Georgia and Tech, Tennessee's nemesis stopped being a nemesis some 60 years ago, at least in every sport but basketball.

Yew Tee dominated the Commodores in football, and since this is the SEC, everyone perceived that dominance to be total when it comes to athletics.

But the Vawls have their own demons.

Prior to the advent of the current Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl, the Arnge had struggled in that sport. Besides football -- and the occasional baseball or swimming victories -- the SEC school in Knoxville was a one-trick pony.

Until Pat Summit.

One of -- if not the most -- winningest coaches in college basketball, Summit has built one of the top two programs in women's sports on the banks of the Tennessee River in the shadow of the Great Smokey Mountains.

So much has Summit's and Tennessee's success overshadowed the women's basketball world that the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame was constructed in Knoxville, largely as a result of that city being the home of the Lady Vawls.

For the Vanderbilt-Tennessee rivalry, which has so often been so lop-sided in football, the women's basketball contest has developed into a chance to really develop and stoke a true, hate-filled, in-state rivalry.

At least, that's the way that Vanderbilt has always seen it. Lately, though, that rivalry has been somewhat lacking.

Until today, no Commodore women's basketball team had defeated the hated Lady Vawls since Jim Foster's Commodores did it on February 2, 2002 in Nashville.

Since that win at Memorial Gym, the Black and Gold had lost 16 straight games to Pat Summit's powerhouse.

And that's why you'll have to excuse the emotion as the 24th-ranked Commodore women beat the seventh-ranked Yew Tee Lady Vawls, 74-58.

Powered by a 22-6 run and 53% accuracy in the second half, the Black and Gold took control of the game with eight minutes remaining, and they never really looked back.

There may have been some method behind the victory, as well.

"In preparing for this game, I did it differently than we've ever prepared for Tennessee before," said Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb. "I decided we would have some fun. We put Tennessee uniforms and headbands on the guys, played Rocky Top, and made the crowd noise so deafening that they couldn't hear each other on the court."

"I think it definitely worked," Balcomb added.

She wasn't the only one who thought so, either.

"Vanderbilt was the better team from tip off to the end," said Tennessee head coach Pat Summit.

Now that's a quote worth framing.

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