In women’s college basketball, there were two programs that came to the forefront. Tennessee and UConn.
The program Geno Auriemma built in Storrs, Conn., was admittedly modeled after the dominance Pat Summit built in Knoxville with Tennessee. When the two schools played each other in a yearly series beginning in 1995 and lasting until 2007, it was a big event often pitting the very best teams in the nation and some of the all-time greats the sport has ever seen.
The rivalry ended somewhat acrimoniously between the two all-time great coaches, but the recent call from the family for thoughts and prayers for the legendary coach, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease, hit the Lady Vols’ biggest rivals hard too.
“It’s sad to see her family go through this,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma told The Associated Press. “It’s really difficult. . . . She was the one that everyone tried to emulate. That was the program everyone tried to be.”
Auriemma credited Summitt’s decision to have her Tennessee team travel to Connecticut for a game as a big turning point in his vaunted program’s history. UConn now dominates the women’s basketball landscape. A national championship is an expectation every year.
When the sport was at its height though, UConn and Tennessee were in constant battles for the top spot.
“She’s meant so much to the game and the sport,” UConn legend Rebecca Lobo told the Associated Press. “I’ve always had wonderful interactions with her when I was a broadcaster. I was completely unaware until I saw the stuff this morning. It made me really sad.”
“You can’t say enough about her,” WNBA superstar and UConn alum Diana Taurasi said. “If it wasn’t for her, we probably wouldn’t be playing in Madison Square Garden. Connecticut never would have been Connecticut. She made people take notice of the sport at a time when it probably wasn’t easy. She forced the hand. She was the one.
“It’s really sad for her family and her friends, her ex-teammates. Her basketball family is hurting right now. Everyone is.”
The whole women’s basketball community — Tennessee fans and opponents — are sending their thoughts and prayers to her family and reflecting upon her impact on the sport.
There is tremendous respect throughout the sport for what Summitt accomplished for the Lady Vols.