KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pat Summitt now has 1,000 victories, an unprecedented height even she finds dizzying.
“It’s a hard number to even comprehend,” the Tennessee coach said.
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.
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.”
The landmark win came on the court named for Summitt, 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.
The Lady Vols were given T-shirts with the number “1000” on the front in orange, which they pulled on before a celebration on court as school officials gave her a bracelet, necklace and painting to commemorate this historic 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.
Tennessee fans missed the celebration 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.
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 Bruce Pearl also on hand, even though he kept his shirt on with no body paint this time. Billy Moore, who coached Summitt in the 1976 Olympics, and Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive also were in the stands.
But 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. Summitt said her mother is so excited.
Tennessee lost 80-70 to No. 2 Oklahoma on Monday night in Summitt’s first try at 1,000.
Summitt said people might have noticed the challenges with this season’s team. That doesn’t mean she’s backing down from where she wants to be at season’s end.
“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. 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.”
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 hot, 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.
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.