"Obviously, Shanna had a great shooting night," Pat Summitt said. "I give the glasses full credit. It obviously had an influence on her focus. She sees the target much better."
The glasses are one piece of a team award concocted by graduate assistants Tasha Butts and David Head and assistant coach Nikki Caldwell that is called "Who Wants to Be a Champion?"
"There are three separate awards for attitude, focus, and the person who kept us together the best," Zolman said. "I got the glasses for my focus."
A flashy hat is awarded to the player who demonstrates attitude, and a gaudy "bling-bling" ring is given for leadership and keeping the team together, Butts said. Two freshmen took those awards – Alexis Hornbuckle got the ring, and Nicky Anosike earned the hat. It is not a requirement that the items be worn to the press conference, but it is OK.
"They can wear it wherever they want to wear it as long as they bring it back before the next game," Butts said.
The next game is against No. 9 seed Purdue, which outlasted New Mexico. Tipoff is set for Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena. The winner advances to the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia.
The outcome of Sunday's game was never in doubt. Tennessee built a 62-24 halftime lead – one point short of the arena record of 63 scored on Old Dominion on Jan. 3, 2000 – and dominated the Lady Cats.
Nobody for Tennessee played more than 29 minutes and despite the offensive outpouring only two other Tennessee players were in double figures. Those two also recorded double-doubles.
Hornbuckle had 11 points but even more rebounds at 12, and Shyra Ely had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Anosike came close with nine points and eight rebounds. Freshman center Sybil Dosty, who had been ill with the flu but returned to practice last week, played 18 minutes, scored four points and had seven boards. Dominique Redding had nine points off the bench as did Brittany Jackson.
As a team Tennessee shot 47.3 percent – 55 percent behind the arc – and had 16 assists, 15 steals and eight blocks.
"I thought we played great in the first half," Summitt said. "We did a great job of controlling the tempo, dominating the glass, and shooting well. We went inside and followed our game plan. We had a commitment on the part of our team. We got all nine people involved. We wanted to get them quality minutes. We'll need all nine players during the tournament. I'm proud of our basketball team."
Summitt was disappointed in Western Carolina's ability to penetrate UT's defense, but she attributed the style of play to coach Kellie Jolly Harper, who used to be a Lady Vol point guard.
"They came at us. They competed hard," Summitt said. "Their one-on-one offense caused us to break down defensively. We did not contain the dribble drive. I think that's Kellie's personality, to play aggressively. While I'm sure that she was not pleased with their total points, I'm sure she was pleased with how they played and fought. They did a good job against us, getting seven offensive rebounds in the first half. We created points off turnovers. Give them credit. They got 16 offensive rebounds on us, fighting hard on the glass."
Western Carolina, 18-14, was led by Monique Dawson and Chevon Keith, who both had nine points. Five players – Jennifer Gardner, Ki-Ki Glass, Shaketia Barnes, Ashley Pellom and Teyawna Hardy – had four points each.
As a team Western Carolina shot 25.8 percent – 11.8 percent behind the arc – and turned over the ball 23 times.
But the undersized Lady Cats didn't quit and showed some fire, especially in the second half. It was the school's first-ever trip to the Big Dance, and it was earned after Western Carolina won the Southern Conference Tournament.
"This team has showed a ton of courage and strength this season," said an emotional Harper after the game. "The thing I am most impressed about is how much we improved as a team, and how individuals stepped up and took it upon themselves to get better and make our team better. They made a commitment and bought into what we are trying to do. I cannot say enough about how proud I am of how they represented our university. What they have done to put this program on the map.
"They have gotten a lot of attention and I am proud because they have deserved that attention. I am glad they got a chance to play in this type of atmosphere. I told them I couldn't wait for them to play in front this crowd. I know they are going to be yelling for the other team, but playing in front of a crowd of 10,000-plus is not something a lot of young ladies can say they have ever done. Just to be in this situation is remarkable, and I always want them to have special memories of their time at Western. The last couple of weeks are something I will never forget."
Harper, who won three national titles as a Lady Vol, received a standing ovation from the crowd and a long hug at center court from Summitt after player introductions.
"It was emotional," Harper said through tears. "To get a standing ovation from your alma mater, in front of a lot of friends and your family … once you are a Lady Vol you are always a Lady Vol. It was incredible and it brought back a lot of memories. It let me know I am always welcome here in Knoxville."
It was a night for poignancy as Summitt entered the record books alongside Smith, the legend at North Carolina, with 879 career wins.
"Pat Summitt is huge for the game of women's basketball," Harper said. "She is a pioneer, a legacy, a legend ... . And now her tying Dean Smith allows her legacy to move over to basketball, not just women's basketball. And I think a person like Pat Summitt needs to be a legend in the game of basketball."
Summitt has deflected the question all season – she answers it now, albeit reluctantly – but she seemed truly touched by the answer when one of her players was asked if the team thought about the record.
"I don't think I was thinking about it during the game, but we're well aware of it," Ely said. "I think it's awesome. We're glad to be a part of it. It's huge, not only for women's basketball but for college basketball. It doesn't really hit you until later."
"It's awesome," Ely repeated and looked at Summitt and nodded her respect. "I'm glad to be a part of it."
"I'm glad you're a part of it, too," Summitt said softly and patted Ely on the back.
Summitt can break the record Tuesday night with a win over Purdue, which is in Indiana, which also happens to be the home state of Ely and Zolman. Ely's two college choices came down to Tennessee or Purdue.
"After the game, the team congratulated me," Summitt said. "I said, ‘Thank you.' They asked if I was looking forward to breaking the record. I said, ‘Yes. I want your help to get this over with only because that means that we're going to Philadelphia.'
"When I think about the record, it's not about the numbers. It's about the people, the administration, the assistant coaches who have been loyal, the people who work in the office, and the players. When I think about relationships, I think about my family-(husband) R.B. and (son) Tyler and my mom and dad. I wouldn't have been able to go to college without their support because they didn't give scholarships then.
"I've really been blessed to be in one place for 31 years. I'm not the easiest person to get along with. I thank the administration for tolerating me all these years."
Western Carolina's players also acknowledged Summitt's feat.
"You hate to be on losing side of the record books, but it is nice, I guess, to be part of Tennessee's history," Glass said.
The players can also take heart in how they finished the season. Gardner's and Glass' careers are over, but they were instrumental in the turnaround.
"A lot of people talk about us and how we have built a program at WCU, and that's the biggest memory I am going to take with me," Gardner said. "When we started out we weren't winning as many games, and we weren't going to conference championships. We were getting knocked out in the first round. Now we have a conference championship, and we were playing in the NCAA Tournament. So we have done wonders, and I am very proud right now."
Tennessee's players are trying to end the season with a national title. The seniors have been to three Final Fours, but haven't come home with a trophy yet. The next step comes Tuesday night against Purdue, which doesn't want to be on the losing side of history either.
"I'm excited. It will be great just to play against old AAU teammates and players from high school rivalries," Zolman said. "These are players I played with growing up. Shyra grew up 45 minutes from Purdue. It's exciting."
"During recruiting, my two choices came down to these two teams," Ely said. "I always wanted the chance to play them."
Zolman will need to continue her torrid shooting against the Boilermakers.
"Tonight, I could just feel it," Zolman said. "My teammates were finding me. I got a lot of great looks and was able to knock it down. I wanted to try keeping in rhythm. I hope I can take it into the next game."
"We worked well together tonight," Ely said. "Shanna and Brittany and our perimeter players were hitting pretty well, and that opened up the inside. With the glasses, it was only natural that Shanna would shoot like that."
GAME NOTES: Tennessee's 11 3-pointers against Western Carolina set a school NCAA tourney record, eclipsing the nine the Lady Vols made against DePaul in the second round March 22, 2004. Zolman holds the record of five by herself now. Three players, including Zolman had hit four 3-pointers. The other two were Kellie Jolly, now Harper, (1998 vs. Louisiana Tech) and Brittany Jackson (2003 vs. Alabama State). Harper's record as a player at Thompson-Boling Arena was 58-3. The 43 points were a season low for the Lady Cats. Western Carolina is one of at least four teams in the NCAA tournament – and one of two at this site – that have a married couple on the coaching staff. Harper and assistant coach Jon Harper are married, as are Purdue coach Kristy Curry and assistant coach Kelly Curry. The others are Southern Cal assistants Jody and Derrick Wynn (Kansas City Regional) and Liberty assistant Kelley Deyo and graduate assistant Adam Deyo (Chattanooga Regional.)