It was the only difficult part of the evening as the Lady Vols, inspired by wanting to win No. 1,000 for their coach at home, came out ready to deliver Thursday on what Summitt had been seeking all season – compete for 40 minutes, take care of the ball, hit the boards and defend. It seemed fitting that the milestone win would also validate Summitt's system.
"Hopefully they understood what they did, and the results speak loudly for all of us," Summitt said. "They have to know that. Once they have goals and they set their goals and they commit to them – and that's what they did in this game – they all made a commitment. And when you've got a team that's willing to do that … no excuses but only a firm commitment for the good of the team, that's what they did in this game. So I'm really proud of them."
Tennessee (17-5, 6-2), was led by four players in double figures with sole senior Alex Fuller setting the tone as she started 5-5 from the field and accounted for 11 of the Lady Vols' first 13 points. Fuller finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and one Gatorade bucket bath of confetti and glitter atop Summitt's head as she conducted a post-game television interview.
The idea actually came from Alicia Manning's uncle, and Manning had offered a head's up a week ago to the media to have cameras ready after the historic game.
"My uncle gave me an idea," Manning said last week. "You know how in football they pour Gatorade all over them? We're just going to get confetti and dump it. We're going to try and do something like that."
The team opted not to use actual Gatorade because of the mess on the wooden court, not to mention the possible fallout from drenching one of Summitt's pricey designer suits.
"I believe that was A-town and Alex," freshman forward Glory Johnson said when asked to identify the culprits.
"I didn't have anything to do with that," Fuller said. "That was all Alicia Manning."
But who carried the bucket with Manning?
"Oh, well that was me," Fuller said.
Summitt still had colorful pieces of glitter atop her head and shoulders as she stood at one end of the court to accept a multitude of thanks from the school, not the least of which turned out to be an extension of her contract through 2013-24; $1.4 million for this season plus a $200,000 bonus for winning No. 1,000; and two lifetime achievement bonuses – $500,000 in 2009-10 and a $1 million longevity payment in 2013-14 to reward her for 40 years at Tennessee.
The coach was consumed after the game not by monetary rewards but with a heartfelt speech in which she thanked all current and former players and staff members – when she noticed Heather Mason, the strength and conditioning coach, and Jenny Moshak, chief of sports medicine, were standing off to the side she summoned them to stand with the assistants – her family, the fans, and her teenage son Tyler, of whom she said, "Tyler Summitt has taught me more than I have ever taught anyone. I love him to the bottom of my heart."
It was an emotional moment in a festive night in which the 16,058 fans in attendance were spared any drama by a dominating second half by Tennessee over Georgia (15-8, 5-3) in which Coach Andy Landers asked to not even speak about his team's performance but instead focus on Summitt's achievement.
"Why don't we just talk about the moment because the game is a different deal for me right now," Landers said in a gracious post-game press conference. "I'm not ready to talk about the game in terms of the result of the game. The 1,000 wins, that's a wonderful thing for Coach Summitt and the University of Tennessee.
"I said just now on our radio program the thing that is impressive to me is the consistency with which they've done the things that they've done over a very long period of time. You just don't see the bar go that high and stay that high very often in anything and that they've been able to do it. I mean, think about it a minute. They have been able to do that for 35 years.
"Holy cow. Whatever the numbers are the numbers are going to be, but when you compete at the highest level and you compete for championships on every level over a 35-year period of time, it is a remarkable accomplishment and that's the thing that impresses me the most.
"Guys, I'm irritated right now, not with you and not with anything other than the way our team played tonight, and I really don't want to talk about the game. I'm very, very disappointed. I will speak to anything related to what happened as a result of the game."
Landers added, "I think I was the first to be able to congratulate her, which was a neat thing."
The players and coaches completed the handshake line and then a ceremony began near the student section – which swarmed Summitt afterwards for autographs – in which the coach was presented with the announcement of "A Night of 1,000 Stories," a spring event to celebrate former Lady Vol players and coaches in a roast and toast to raise money for the Summitt Legends scholarship fund; a Knoxville River Walk star to honor Summitt, the first at the downtown park; a commemorative plaque presented by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive; a game ball – several were used in the game as they also will go to the halls of fame – presented by UT Men's Athletic Director Mike Hamilton; and an original Robert Tino painting celebrating the milestone presented by Women's Athletic Director Joan Cronan and Tino. Cronan also gave Summitt a bracelet and necklace recognizing the 1,000th win.
Summitt then took the microphone to salute the fans.
"We've got the greatest fans in women's basketball here tonight," Summitt said. "I want to thank the administration for making the commitment to women's basketball here before it was popular. From the president through Joan Cronan to Mike Hamilton, it's been incredible."
It was a heartfelt speech from Summitt in which she thanked her family, mentioned her mother couldn't make the trip because of a health matter but would be OK, praised her current and former staff and players and pointed out that the team's goal was to get to St. Louis for the Final Four.
That brought a roar from the crowd, which had been on its feet for the final minute of the game and remained standing – with some holding commemorate newspaper front pages of the 1,000th win – while Summitt spoke to them.
"Before I go, I'll remember this as a special night and all who made it possible and who still love the Lady Vols with all their heart," Summitt said.
Summitt was surrounded by fans, most of them students, as she left the court – and she signed as many autographs as she could before she was escorted to her post-game press conference and radio show. Summitt had come out at 6 p.m. before the game for three live appearances on the local news stations and had spoken to the students before returning to the locker room.
It was important to Summitt that the milestone victory be shared with a home crowd and she noted after the game that if her team felt any pressure to win it would have been because she made that sentiment known.
"I think if they did, it was probably because it was very, very important to me that we get this win in front of our fans," Summitt said. "That was the only thing that I've been adamant about. I knew our challenge at Oklahoma would be really tough, but I didn't want us to come back and not play the type of game that would give us an opportunity to win over a quality opponent. We just have incredible fans, and I never want to do anything but compliment them because it did make a difference. This was a huge crowd, and I think our players responded well to it."
Fuller certainly was ready for challenge. At 5 p.m. she was on the court shooting jumpers from behind the arc, on the wings and in the paint. She started the game nailing a three-pointer and then hit her next four shots.
When Georgia jumped out to a 12-7 lead, Angie Bjorklund hit an eight-footer and then fed the ball to Fuller for another eight-footer. Shekinna Stricklen fired a pass to Fuller on a fast break, and the senior forward hit the layup in stride to give Tennessee a 13-12 lead that it would never lose. On the next possession Fuller found Kelley Cain under the basket, and the tone for the game was set.
"I think when Alex opened up shooting the ball so well, that takes a little pressure off of her teammates and also I think it gives them a little more confidence," Summitt said. "The fact that she's a senior, and she's showing them the way, ‘This is how we've got to play.'
"I thought we played with more freedom on offense, which was good. The ball was moving a lot quicker. It didn't getting stuck in players' hands. We had a lot of good interior passing, and that was to me an indication that we're growing on the offensive end."
Johnson had a career-high 20 points by slipping inside the defense and running the floor, and Cain added 12 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. Cain, who is coming back from a knee injury, feels an even greater sense of urgency after Vicki Baugh was lost this week to an ACL tear.
"Definitely," Cain said. "That leaves us with four posts right now, so we definitely bust our butts every day in practice."
Bjorklund also was in double figures for Tennessee with 11 points and tied a career-high with seven assists. She also didn't have a single turnover. Briana Bass, who had to enter the game at the 19:40 mark when Manning went down with a quad contusion, hit a three-pointer – she jumped in the air after it settled through the net – and had three assists and zero turnovers.
Of greater significance to Summitt was Bass' defense – the two had watched film together this week, including clips of how former Lady Vol Shannon Bobbitt, also 5'2, would guard on the perimeter – and the freshman handled her assignment.
Stricklen and Bjorklund also locked down on the outside, as Angela Puleo was 0-3 for the Lady Bulldogs, and Georgia, as a team, shot 35.4 percent from the field. Johnson also guarded Puleo, Georgia's three-point specialist, when Cain and Fuller were patrolling the paint, and she never allowed Puleo an open look at the rim.
Georgia didn't get any points from its bench and four starters scored – Puleo was held scoreless – with Christy Marshall scoring 16 points, Porsha Phillips tallying 10 on 3-14 from the field, Ashley Houts adding 11 points, and Angel Robinson chipping in six points for a team total of 43.
"I think everybody on our team has the ability to score, and I think Christy showed that tonight," Houts said. "Porsha Phillips has showed you that before. It's not anything anyone does in particular; it's just about us trying to find what works. It's just us trying to execute. This is obviously not what we wanted. We will learn from it and grow."
It was precisely the defensive performance from her team that Summitt had been seeking.
"Our defense, I'm really pleased with how we defended, particularly their guards," Summitt said. "I felt like we did a great job defensively. Marshall went off on us for awhile, but I thought we did a better job in the second half."
Marshall, who had been recruited by Tennessee, got 14 of her points in the first half when Stricklen played just eight minutes because of two fouls, one of which was a technical after she got whistled for a retaliatory move after contact with a Georgia player.
"They did a box-and-one (defense) on me," Marshall said. "I slacked down, and didn't get myself open as well as I did in the first half. It wasn't just their doing; it was my doing, too."
Stricklen, who had nine points, six rebounds and four assists, left the game after a hard landing on a fast break and had to be taken to the locker room. That left Tennessee with seven available players – Manning was out with the quad and Amber Gray was out because of illness – and the second-loudest cheer of the evening – the Summitt speech being the first – came when the fans saw Stricklen emerging from the tunnel and walking fine. She re-entered the game to another roar.
As a team the Lady Vols had 20 assists and just 11 turnovers. They out-rebounded Georgia, 45-27, and shot 45.6 percent from the field. They got 20 points off the bench to zero for Georgia, 13 second-chance points to two for Georgia and 42 points in the paint to 20 for Georgia. They swatted away seven shots with Cain getting six blocks, though one should have been shared with Fuller, who spiked a Georgia offering to the ground with Stricklen corralling the loose ball.
The number that stood out the most to Summitt was 40 – the number of minutes her players competed.
"Obviously, I had no idea how we were going to play," Summitt said. "It's kind of been with this team the unknown. You wait and see. I really thought that our defensive intensity early in the game pretty much set the tone, and I'm excited to see us play some quality minutes on the basketball court because we've been playing in spurts.
"This was probably the closest we've been to playing a 40-minute game. So I think maybe we grew up a little bit. I'm proud of how they played. They could have felt a lot of pressure and I told them the only thing I wanted to do was focus on we needed an SEC victory and obviously a good win over Georgia, because Georgia has had some good wins themselves. From that standpoint I feel much better about where we are if we can just build on it."
The number 1,000 also got Summitt's attention. She is the first NCAA basketball coach, men or women, to ever reach 1,000 wins.
"It's a ‘wow' from the standpoint of never, ever did I think I would coach this long, nor did I ever envision this program winning 1,000 games," Summitt said. "It certainly is a time for me to reflect and think about all the players that scored all those points. We've had more All-Americans, more Olympians than anyone in the game, the administration and their commitment to women's basketball.
"People are saying that's a record that'll never be broken. I'm like, ‘No, I don't know that I believe that because records are made to be broken.' But the fact that this program was the first to do it is a great source of pride for all of us – our administration, our coaches, all the players that wore the Lady Vol uniform and more times than not we had a lot of success on the road as well as at home."
Summitt had another "wow" moment – her word for the evening – when she pondered legendary Coach Bobby Knight's math that to match her feat a coach would need to average 33 wins over 30 seasons.
"When he said that I thought, ‘Wow,' " Summitt said. "I didn't think those would be the numbers. I think that's why a lot of people say no one's going reach it, but I there will be some people out there that will stay in it longer."
Summitt then smiled and fired a good-natured zinger at Knight, whom she has known since they met at the 1984 Olympics when both were coaching in USA basketball.
"Coach Knight is thinking about getting back in the game," Summitt said, alluding to the rumors that Knight was being considered by schools with openings, including Georgia's men's team. "I know he's after my record now. You've got to watch out for Coach Knight."
Summitt rolled her total to No. 500 on Nov. 21, 1993, against Ohio State, 80-45, in the inaugural State Farm Hall of Fame game in Jackson, Tenn. Did she think then about another 500 wins?
"I never thought about that number," Summitt said. "I remember when we won 900 and I was like, ‘Wow.' That was one of the first times it hit me that we had had that many successful teams and have been able to do what we've done, but I never thought about the number 1,000.
"I didn't even think about it when we got to 100. I remember Debby (Jennings) was so excited. We were at N.C. State. I was like, ‘What's the big deal?' I was thinking, ‘We've got to win a lot more games,' because it was early in my career."
Number 100 came on Jan. 13, 1979, in Raleigh, N.C., in a 79-66 win over N.C. State. None of the current Lady Vol players were even born.
For Fuller, a Tennessee native, and Johnson, who grew up in Knoxville, winning No. 1,000 for the program in a Lady Vol uniform carries an extra significance.
"Personally, I would never have thought that I would be experiencing this," Johnson said. "It's a great experience and I'm glad I got to. It's an honor, and it's amazing."
"Like Glory said just growing up and watching the Lady Vol program play, I've always wanted to be here," Fuller said. "I've been a part of the 900th win, so that was a big deal for me. That just means I've been here a long time I guess."
It was also special to Cain, a native of Georgia, who selected Tennessee over the Lady Bulldogs, among other teams who wanted to sign the 6'6 center. The fact the win came against her home state school made it special for Cain and Manning, who is from Etowah, Ga., and also was recruited by the University of Georgia.
"That was Alicia's and my goal to show out in front of Georgia and also help Coach get her 1,000th win," Cain said. "They're a great team and we just had to go out there and prove ourselves."
The players also expected to win Thursday, though it was apparent that Summitt and her staff had done a good job of not making it a distraction when Fuller was asked if she was glad it was over.
"What's finally over?" Fuller asked, genuinely puzzled.
The countdown to 1,000.
"I don't think that was our main focus," Fuller said. "I don't think the 1,000 was our main focus. We knew we were going to get it tonight. We've been talking about it and we just had to be about it tonight. Our main focus was playing as a team and playing together. We kind of had a ‘Come to Jesus' meeting, so I think that helped.
"It was players and coaches, just laying everything out on the line and saying what everyone needed to do for us to win."
That meeting took place this week after the Monday loss to Oklahoma in which the team basically paid no attention to the scouting report defense. Summitt was livid by the time the team gathered Tuesday the day after the game. She didn't hold a practice; instead the team met and talked.
"After our loss at Oklahoma, I was very upset with our team, very disappointed in our team," Summitt said. "We were picking and choosing when we play hard, didn't know who we could depend on and then when Vicki Baugh went down, it was like, ‘Wow. If we don't do something now, we're in trouble.' I started looking at the schedule, and I shouldn't have, because you look at the schedule and you think, ‘How many games can we win?' I've never had to do that before, but I did it, and not because I had to, but because it was on my mind.
"Quite honestly I told them, ‘We gave you a great scouting report at Oklahoma, and the best three-point shooter went off on us. So what you're telling me is you're not using our scouting report, so, guess what? You do the scouting report on Georgia.' I said, ‘Holly Warlick is not going to do it for you.' "
The team took the task seriously and spent several hours working on the game tapes and preparing a written report that would resemble what the coaches presented.
So should the team take over the reports from now on?
"We might. We might need to do that," Fuller said with a smile. "We worked hard I have to say. We worked really hard on the scouting report, and I think the freshmen really stepped up and took over on that. They were real serious about it when we were doing the scout, and we were watching film. So who knows? Pat might let us take over."
Summitt wasn't ready to go that far – but she was clearly proud of the effort, even as she joked about it.
"No, but I think they will help us with it because I think that was a great lesson in if you know what someone is going to do and you know how to want to disrupt it you have a chance to be very successful with it," Summitt said. "And they did a pretty good job. They misspelled some things, so I told them that they would probably in school for six years instead of four.
"But it was kind of cute going back and looking at what they did. But they knew when they finished that they understood what Georgia liked to do and what they had to take away from them."
If Summitt sounded almost like a proud mother, it's because that is what she is with a team with seven freshmen on the roster.
Despite that youth Summitt made it clear the goal hasn't changed – she wants her team to be in St. Louis and she reiterated that to the fans, while noting to laughter that the team has had some struggles.
"I think you have to say it and you have to believe it," Summitt said. "I want our players to understand the expectations. They understand the expectations but I think because of some of the games that we've had and we haven't closed out and some of the losses we've had, I think that they've probably doubted a little bit where we are and where we have to go to.
"I want them to know it doesn't matter if we're struggling right now or if we're not a 40-minute team, we've got a lot of games left. You've got to believe. You've got to believe that you can do it, and that's why we always talk about it, putting that goal out there."
Fuller indicated that was definitely the case. After the game she zeroed in on the fact the Lady Vols played a complete game, not the historic win.
"It was a good win for us and a good win for Pat," Fuller said. "We're mostly excited about the fact we played a 40-minute game. We've had so many people telling us we need to play a 40-minute game, and we finally played together and played the entire game instead of half or 30 (minutes)."
Fuller's bluntness and dry sense of humor was also on display when she was asked if the game felt like an NCAA tourney one.
"Since half of our team has never played in the tournament I don't think you really could compare that to an NCAA Tournament game," Fuller said. "It had a big-game feel to it, and it also had a feel to where our young players are finally stepping up and they're finally realizing how we have to play every game to win and to get to St. Louis."
Tennessee led 32-24 at halftime and would have built a bigger lead if not for misfiring behind the arc at 2-10. But the Lady Vols had taken care of the ball with just six turnovers while forcing 10 from Georgia.
When the second half started Johnson scored on a layup off a feed from Fuller and the lead was 10 points, 34-24. Tennessee would never lose the double-digit lead and would extend it by repeatedly getting the ball inside, where Johnson, who was 7-13, and Cain, who was 6-11, would finish the shots.
Stricklen and Bjorklund would both connect once from behind the arc – Bjorklund at the 11:23 mark on an assist from Stricklen, and Stricklen at the 6:08 mark on a feed from Bjorklund that ended with Stricklen pointing at Bjorklund and smiling at her shooting buddy – and the crowd settled into just enjoying a stress-free win at home, something it hadn't seen in awhile.
Sydney Smallbone drained a three-pointer for the final 30-point margin with 1.4 seconds left in the game, and the celebration officially commenced. It punctuated what Summitt had been seeking – her team playing from first whistle to final buzzer for 40 minutes. The fact it ended with win No. 1,000 was another reason for the coach to celebrate.
"I think I'm excited about both tonight," Summitt said. "I didn't want them to have the pressure. If we lost tonight then we go to Florida and then they may feel pressure from both of those situations. And I wanted it to be in front of our fans. Not that I would ever throw a loss; you never have to worry about that. I said from the very beginning I want this record to be in Thompson-Boling Arena."
Landers had sent Summitt a text message that she needed to get the win against Oklahoma.
"I'm sitting at home Sunday night after we had played," Landers said. "You know how texting goes. All of a sudden you get to texting two or three people. I laid my phone down. There was no ‘good luck' in there. It simply said I'm gonna be PO'ed if you don't win. It was my way – and she knows it – of saying to her and acknowledging to her that she was on the cusp of doing something really, really special."
Summitt will give her team the day off Friday. Since the players met, lifted weights and prepared a scouting report on Tuesday that doesn't count as time off under the NCAA's mandate of 20 hours a week for games and instruction.
The team will practice Saturday at Pratt Pavilion and then depart for Gainesville, Fla., in advance of Sunday's matchup with the Gators, who are 7-1 in the SEC and tied for first place with Auburn.
"It's very encouraging that we played this well," Summitt said. "I'm really encouraged by it, but I'm going to wait and see. Florida is a great team. They're playing really, really well. How are we going to come off a big win? Do we feel like we've arrived or do we understand we're still fighting to get a good placement in the SEC Tournament or obviously to advance in the postseason?"
Fuller believed Thursday's dominant win would help a young team's confidence, but she also knows that there needs to be a carryover effect.
"In my opinion it kind of builds everybody's confidence," Fuller said. "It's a huge win to finally play 40 minutes. It's important for us to move on and kind of carry this game over to our next game in Florida."
Johnson also smiled when asked if she realized this game just meant Summitt would expect more of the same without slippage.
"This is about us playing hard and coming to play every day, no matter if it's a game or practice or (who) we're playing," Johnson said. "She expects a lot out of us. We're a great team, and we just have to play hard all the time, and we should be fine."
Thursday's win, however, didn't come as a surprise to the team. They knew their coach would reach the milestone.
"I mean, she's Pat Summitt," Cain said. "Success comes with her name."