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Published: Friday, 3/25/2005

Alone at the 'Summitt'

BIG-TIME college basketball has always taken pride in its coaches. Within the trade, they are known as the coaching "fraternity." So it is not only a milestone, but an ironic one, that college basketball's all-time winningest coach is now a "sorority" sister.

Pat Summitt is alone at the top of that particular mountain after her Tennessee Volunteers defeated Purdue the other night in the NCAA women's tournament. The victory gave Coach Summitt 880 career wins, passing another coaching legend, North Carolina's Dean Smith, now retired.

That's remarkable in itself. But Summitt's career totals surpass Coach Smith's in another regard. Her career coaching record is now 880 wins and 171 losses. Coach Smith ended his outstanding career with 879 wins and 254 losses. His winning percentage: .775. Hers: .837.

Smith also needed 36 years to reach 879. Summitt passed him by after 30. She's just 52 years old and could coach the Vols for another 10 years or more, pushing her new record to truly amazing levels.

Pat Summitt has won six national titles at Tennessee and her top-seeded Vols are pushing hard for a seventh in this year's tournament. They will play Texas Tech on Sunday in the regional semifinals.

Gerald Ford was president when Summitt recorded her first win in January of 1975. Just 52 fans showed up. She has been impressively consistent ever since, winning not only a half dozen national championships but making 15 appearances in the Final Four, and turning a Lady Vols game in Knoxville into a hot ticket.

It could be argued that over the years, especially early on, there were more consistently excellent men's programs than women's, and therefore it was easier for Tennessee's women to excel.

But that's not the path Summitt chose. Along the way she has challenged herself and her teams by scheduling tough opponents. Of her 1,051 games, 494 were played against ranked teams, and her players won 353 of them.

Until now Pat Summitt's fans could claim only that she held virtually every NCAA women's coaching record. But in terms of wins, the category that matters most, they no longer have to qualify it.

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