Summitt one away from breaking Smith record

Updated: March 21, 2005, 10:33 PM ET
Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Pat Summitt is on the verge of becoming the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history.

Two years after setting the record for most wins by a women's coach, Summitt tied Dean Smith's record of 879 victories Sunday night when Tennessee beat Western Carolina 94-43 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

She can break the record Tuesday night in the second round. Top-seeded Tennessee (27-4) hosts Purdue. In the other game Tuesday, LSU plays Arizona.

Summitt hasn't been fond of the attention focused on the record chase while her team tries to make a run for a seventh national title, and she certainly isn't preoccupied with proving the list of all-time victories should include men's and women's coaches.

"It's been suggested there will be a lot of people that will not respect it or recognize it as being women in comparison to men. That doesn't bother me. It's just the way the numbers add up, and the two were combined," Summitt said Monday. "Obviously I think it in some regard is more significant and more meaningful when it includes both the men's and women's game."

Summitt's record stands at 879-171, while Smith was 879-254 in 36 years at North Carolina. He retired in 1997.

Summitt passed Texas' Jody Conradt on the women's list early in the 2002-03 season.

Summitt spoke to Smith last week and he encouraged her to go for the record.

"He left me a message because we had played phone tag and he just said, 'Good luck going for the number. I can't remember what the number is exactly,'" she said. "When I called him back I said, 'I can't either.'"

Purdue's Kristy Curry could end up being part history as the coach on the losing end of No. 880 -- or her team could put off the record breaking until next season.

"To a certain degree in my heart I have to be pulling for her a little bit tomorrow night. That's human nature," she said. "I just respect and admire her as a mom, as a basketball coach, her intensity and passion. It's something that we all as young coaches aspire to be like and hope we can have just a little bit of the impact she's had on the game."

Summitt took over the women's basketball team at age 22 and has been at Tennessee the last 31 years. At the time, there were no scholarships for players, and she posted signs around campus calling for students to try out for the team.

Summitt recalled speaking to civic groups with six to 12 people in the audience. Today, Lady Vols games draw thousands of fans, who have helped build a huge homecourt advantage for Tennessee. Partly as a result, the Lady Vols are 45-0 in NCAA Tournament games played at home.

Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini believes Knoxville is the ideal place for Summitt to get the record.

"This is a great site -- the center of women's basketball. And I think it's great for Pat Summitt to probably break this record," Bonvicini said. "I think it's great for her to do it in the NCAA Tournament when it's such a big stage and (to) have the opportunity to do it at home."

Thompson-Boling Arena and Knoxville have hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other venue or city. Counting the four first-round games on Sunday, there have been 52 games in the arena, which opened in 1987, and 67 games in Knoxville.

"Do I think that our fans are going to be the reason that we hopefully win tomorrow night? No. I think that Purdue is going to come out and play their game, and they're going to be even more inspired because they are on the road," Summitt said.

Summitt would be the second college coach to pass Smith this season. Harry Statham of McKendree College in the NAIA did earlier this year and finished the year with 896 wins.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press