Pat’s future not in focus past Baylor
Posted: Monday, March 26, 2012 7:00 pm
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — 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) tonight in Des Moines for a trip to the Final Four.
If the Lady Bears win, it could mark the final time Summitt roams the sidelines after 38 years and 1,098 wins. Summitt announced in August she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
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 season.
“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.”
Published in The Messenger 3.26.12