Pat Summitt has been a part of hundreds of basketball games in her 32 years as women’s basketball coach at Tennessee.
So it would take a lot more than a few of her 893 career wins to lose respect for another team or coach. After all, Summitt has coached the Lady Volunteers to 100 first-place rankings, while Temple’s program has placed in the rankings just 15 times.
Summitt’s respect for Temple’s women’s basketball team was evident as early as last season, when the NCAA’s winningest basketball coach agreed to play a home-home series with an unranked Owls team.
The scheduling agreement paid off for both sides.
The Lady Vols got what they needed, a 52-48 win in Knoxville on Nov. 28, 2004, against a scrappy Temple team vying for the NCAA Tournament. And Owls coach Dawn Staley’s bunch proved that they could play for 40 minutes with one of the nation’s best teams.
Summitt said she “closed my eyes for the last three minutes” of the teams’ last meeting.
More than a year since that game, the No. 22 Owls were feisty but hit only 28 percent of their shots in the first half in Wednesday night’s 75-50 loss to the Lady Vols at the Liacouras Center.
Summitt said her decision to add Temple to her team’s schedule in 2004 had nothing to do with the level of competition the Owls were capable of bringing; instead, she said, it had everything to do with Staley.
“They contacted us. …I’ve long admired [Staley’s] leadership, her play, her coaching, her longevity and what she’s done on the international level,” Summitt said. “That’s why I wanted to schedule this series.”
The ties between both coaches date back to the late 1980s, when Summitt scouted Staley to play at Tennessee. Ultimately Staley committed to play her collegiate ball at Virginia, and met two of Summitt’s Lady Vols teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Staley said the Owls’ two losses to Tennessee were not enough to have her wishing she hadn’t made a phone call to Summitt two years ago.
“You get to measure yourself [against Tennessee], to see where you are,” Staley said after the game. “If you want to win a national championship, that’s what we’re going to have to deal with, teams like that.”
The Owls now are 8-3. They had an identical record through 11 games last season. Not much positive can be derived from Wednesday night’s 25-point loss to the Lady Vols, in comparison to last season’s four-point loss.
The Owls entered this game in the top 25. They started their season as the clear frontrunner to three-peat as Atlantic Ten Conference champions.
Last season’s narrow defeat to the Lady Vols motivated the Owls to 26 wins in their final 28 games.
With the start to their A-10 schedule on Jan. 6 against Charlotte, Staley said the Owls’ blowout loss should ignite them against A-10 teams. But first, the Owls need to fix a few parts of their game.
“There are some things we need to work on if we’re going to defend our Atlantic Ten title,” Staley said.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.