KNOXVILLE — Pat Summitt didn’t bother to brush from her hair the glittering specks left behind by the confetti shower. Her voice wavered as she thanked players, coaches, administrators and fans for their support over the decades she’s spent at Tennessee.
The coach known for her searing glare could only smile. She had reached 1,000 victories, an unprecedented height even she finds dizzying.
“Wow,” she said. “This may be a little hard for me.”
Summitt became the first Division I basketball coach — men’s or women’s — to win 1,000 career games Thursday night as her 12th-ranked Lady Vols beat Georgia 73-43. It was their second chance in four days at giving their coach her latest and one of her greatest milestones.
And she’s got a new contract to go along with it.
These baby Lady Vols (17-5, 6-2 Southeastern Conference), with seven freshmen on the roster, are nothing like the squads that brought Summitt her seventh and eighth national championships in the previous two seasons. This is an inexperienced group that had Summitt joking about whether they would even be up to the task of winning the 17 games she needed to reach 1,000 this season.
“It’s a time to reflect on a number of things, the administration saying yes to women’s basketball and giving us an opportunity to play on the biggest stage in the women’s game. I appreciate that,” she said. The landmark win came on the court named for Summitt, 56, who just keeps racking up achievements for others to chase. All the fans in the arena began standing with about a minute left, and they clapped to “Rocky Top” as orange and white streamers fell from the ceiling.
Summitt gave Georgia coach Andy Landers a hug on the sideline. Landers said it meant something to be the first to congratulate her on a remarkable accomplishment.
“You just don’t see the bar go that high and stay that high very often in anything. Think about it a minute. They’ve been able to do that for 35 years. Holy cow,” Landers said.
The Lady Vols were given T-shirts with “1000” on the front in orange, which they pulled on before a celebration on the court. School officials gave her a bracelet, necklace and painting to commemorate this historic win. They also announced Summitt had signed a contract extension through 2014 earlier this week and earned a $200,000 bonus with this win.
Summitt became emotional as she talked.
“I feel like I’ve been extremely blessed, and I thank God for the many opportunities I’ve had to be your coach and work with these young ladies, and so I want to thank all of you. I want to thank every person who’s been a part of my staff. ... They gave their absolute best,” Summitt said.
She wanted to win 1,000 on this court, especially with a road trip to No. 11 Florida on Sunday. She didn’t get to celebrate on Tennessee’s homecourt Jan. 29, 2006, when Summitt won her 900th game in Nashville. She won her first game at home, and Nos. 300, 800 and 880 — the one that pushed her past North Carolina’s Dean Smith for most wins by a Division I coach — came in Knoxville. The night she passed Smith, Tennessee renamed the court for Summitt.
“I grew up watching the Lady Vol program play,” said Tennessee senior Alex Fuller. “I’ve always wanted to play here. I was a part of her 900th win, and that was a big deal for me.”
One fan confident of the win flashed 1,000 on a sign behind the bench as photos of Summitt over her 35 seasons flashed on the videoboards during timeouts.
Summitt had former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer cheering her from a luxury suite with men’s basketball coach and close friend Bruce Pearl also on hand. Billie Moore, who coached Summitt in the 1976 Olympics, and Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive also were in the stands.
Neither Summitt’s mother, who has been ill recently, nor the coach’s son, who had his own high school basketball game to play, were in the arena to celebrate with her.
Tennessee lost 80-70 to No. 2 Oklahoma on Monday night in Summitt’s first try at 1,000.
Summitt is not only the first to 1,000 Division I victories, but she might be on the only one for a long time. The only coaches with at least 900 are Bob Knight (902), the former men’s coach at Indiana and Texas Tech currently working in TV, and retired Texas women’s coach Jody Conradt (900).
“Everyone who has been involved in athletics knows every once in a while it may take a couple of generations you get to see something very unique and very special,” Moore said. “It’s probably not ever going to happen again, at least not in your lifetime. This is one of those moments.”
Summitt joked that her reaching 1,000 might be why Knight may be thinking about coaching again. No coach has beaten Summitt more than Landers, whose hometown is a short drive away from Knoxville and who used to scrimmage the Lady Vols when he was at a nearby community college. His Lady Bulldogs came in having won four straight in a streak that included wins over Vanderbilt and Auburn after those teams had beaten Tennessee.
The Lady Vols erased any doubt that this would be the night to celebrate by grabbing the lead in the first half of a sloppy game and pushing the lead to double digits on the first bucket of the second half, a layup by Glory Johnson.
Johnson finished with a career-high 20 points to lead the Lady Vols. Alex Fuller had 13, Kelley Cain added 12 and Angie Bjorklund 11.
Georgia (15-8, 5-3) went cold for nearly seven minutes in the first half and couldn’t recover. Christy Marshall led Georgia with 16, Ashley Houts had 11 and Porsha Phillips 10.
“She’s one heck of a coach,” Marshall said.
Summitt won her 40th overall against Georgia and improved to 16-4 in this series in Knoxville even in a game the banged-up Lady Vols took a few more lumps.
Vicki Baugh, who tore her left ACL against Oklahoma, is out for the rest of the season. Then Shekinna Stricklen pulled a groin muscle and had to leave briefly with Alicia Manning bruising her left quadriceps muscle.
This team has been a challenge for Summitt, not like the dominant ones she’s used to coaching. That doesn’t mean the ultimate goal isn’t the same.
“We may be young and we may be inexperienced, but our goal is to be in St. Louis at the Final Four. And that is something that we talk about,” she said. “I think you’ve got a vision, you have to talk about that vision. We have a vision, and that’s where we want to be.”