In the mid-1980s, when Pat Summitt was losing sleep over her inability to push Tennessee to the top of women’s college basketball, she would lie awake at night stewing about Louisiana Tech.
How can we do what they do?
Who do we need to do it?
“Louisiana Tech was a team that, certainly early on, had the dominant inside play, and they had terrific speed and quickness,” Summitt said Saturday. “I think their athletes certainly were better than our athletes in a lot of situations.
“And what happens, you look at them and as you go out to assess high school talent you think, ‘Will this player help us beat Louisiana Tech?”’
Summitt proved to be a quick study.
Building on the formula that made the Lady Techsters the most dominant program in the early years of the NCAA women’s tournament, Summitt won five national titles in 11 seasons, beginning with a victory over Louisiana Tech in the 1987 final.
Tonight, Summitt will go for her sixth title - and an unprecedented third straight - and the opponent once again will be the Lady Techsters.
Only now, there is a new measuring stick.
“When I beat her - and we have had some success through the years - it’s one of those rushes you don’t get from (beating) other people,” said Tech coach Leon Barmore, whose his eighth Final Four leaves him second only to Summitt’s 11. “It’s the high in the coaching profession that you’ve beaten the best.”
The championship game will match two teams with similar traditions and similar styles. Tennessee (756 victories) and Tech (677) are the two winningest teams in women’s history, and they also employ the same relentless full-court style predicated on speed.
The Volunteers (38-0) are led by national player of the year Chamique Holdsclaw and an awesome freshman class featuring guard Semeka Randall and forward Tamika Catchings.
They harassed Arkansas into 28 turnovers and 31 percent shooting in Friday night’s 86-58 win. When they beat Tech 75-61 on Nov. 21, the Vols forced 20 turnovers and held the Lady Techsters to 36 percent shooting.
While the Vols have cruised through the season as a team most observers are ready to anoint as the greatest ever, the Lady Techsters (31-3) quietly have won 16 in a row and 26 of 27 since an 88-65 loss to Old Dominion on Dec. 7. They’re in the title game for the sixth time.
xxxx TODAY ON TV NCAA championship: Tennessee (38-0) vs. Louisiana Tech (31-3), 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)