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Summitt takes first shot at win No. 900

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pat Summitt is reaching a milestone that makes her stop and say, "Wow!''

Summitt, who became the NCAA's winningest coach last March, takes her first shot at her 900th career victory Thursday night when top-ranked Tennessee visits No. 19 Vanderbilt.

Big numbers are nothing new for Summitt, with a record of 899-172 in her 32nd season. She has six national championships, 11 SEC tournament titles, 13 regular-season titles
and an NCAA-record 16 berths in the Final Four.

Still, thinking about 900 victories makes her feel old at 53.

"This number made me stop and think, 'Wow! I have coached a lot of tough basketball games against a lot of tough competitors,' '' Summitt said.

She passed Dean Smith's record of 879 victories last March 22 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Only Harry Statham of NAIA McKendree College has won more games, with 906.

The coach who gets the first chance to deny Summitt No. 900 is Melanie Balcomb, who became a head coach when Summitt already had three national titles. Balcomb has coached in 382 games, so the concept of winning 900 games in a career is hard to believe.

"She's coached at a very young age at a very high level with a lot of pressure from Day 1. It's a tremendous, tremendous place to be in and to be able to dominate a sport that long and be able to do something like that, it's amazing to me,'' Balcomb said.

Balcomb has one victory over Summitt, in 2001 when her Xavier team upset the Lady Vols in the NCAA Mideast Regional semifinal. Tennessee has won nine straight over Vanderbilt since Balcomb took over in 2002.

"I'd rather be remembered as the team that held her back maybe a game or two,'' Balcomb said.

That could prove easier said than done because Summitt, who started coaching at Tennessee in 1974, is winning games quickly.

She needed three years, 38 days between her 700th and 800th victories, which came in January 2003. She could clinch the 900th win within three years, five days.

Summitt promises she's focusing more on staying atop the SEC (17-0, 3-0) in the second of a four-game road trip, which includes a visit to No. 2 Duke on Monday.

"Certainly, any time you reach a milestone, you do reflect as a coach, and I do on my career,'' Summitt said. "I do think about all of the great players that have played here, and one thing that I am really proud of is that we are able to play one of the toughest schedules in the country every year.''

Of her first 899 victories, 505 came against ranked opponents, and Vanderbilt offers a chance to push that number to 506.

Playing the Commodores in Nashville won't provide the hostile environment of some SEC opponents. The Lady Vols usually enjoy at least a 50-50 split in support, but Summitt isn't likely to be feted with the cake, balloons and fireworks that accompanied her 800th victory in Knoxville.

Tennessee leads this series with its would-be rival 45-6, including 18-4 away from Knoxville. These teams met three times last season, the last a 76-73 victory in the SEC tournament semifinals.

Vanderbilt (13-4, 2-1) has bulked up a bit this season with 6-foot-4 Liz Sherwood, a center who transferred from Connecticut. Balcomb hopes Sherwood and 6-3 forward Carla Thomas give them more help on the boards against a Tennessee team with three players under 6-1.

With the Lady Vols averaging 80.1 points per game, Balcomb is more worried about not being able to keep up. She said this is the most explosive team Summitt has had in years.

"We play Tennessee, it's never really about us,'' Balcomb said. "It's always about Tennessee, and now it's about Pat and Tennessee.''