As the woman’s NCAA basketball tournament turns Sweet 16 today, several tantalizing storylines are emerging.
They range from Louisiana Tech and Louisiana State staging a Bayou Classic in the West Regional to the Notre Dame-Purdue intrastate game in the East Regional. The latter two played for the 2001 championship, with Notre Dame winning its first title.
But the best storyline is several games away.
Should Tennessee and Texas reach the title game, the championship would, for the first time, match two coaches with 800 career victories -- Pat Summitt and Jody Conradt.
Summitt and Conradt began the season tied in victories with 788. Summitt, in her 29th season at Tennessee, reached the milestone by defeating DePaul, 76-57, on Jan. 14. Conradt, who has spent 27 of her 34 years as a coach with Texas, came aboard eight days later, beating Texas Tech, 69-58.
Asked what keeps them going -- besides the winning -- both Summitt and Conradt used the word “passion” in their explanations.
“Teaching is my passion,” said Summitt, 50. “People say coaching is teaching, but there are people who [just] coach. I like teaching skills and fundamentals individually, then teaching collectively what brings together a team.”
Said Conradt, 61: “I assume a lot of people choose their life’s work on what’s in their heart or their passion. Once you know what that passion is, the next glorious step is ability to make a living doing that. I don’t know if everyone has that opportunity, but it’s why I coach. You don’t lose that easily.”
Only six men’s NCAA Division I coaches -- eight total -- have reached 800 victories. Summitt and Conradt are the only women to do it. Each has a national title. Summitt has six; only John Wooden, who won 10 men’s titles at UCLA, has more.
“It is a huge, unbelievable milestone,” said Joan Bonvicini, who has won 540 games in 24 years at Long Beach State and Arizona. “To be in the game that long and win that consistently is an amazing feat. To have their programs at the top again tells you why they are where they are.”
Penn State Coach Rene Portland, whose Nittany Lions visit Tennessee today in a Mideast Regional semifinal, said: “They both did it in their own way, and they have unique styles. I thought [my own] 600 wins was good until I read what they did.”
Both Summitt and Conradt, whose teams played each other in December, with Texas winning 63-62, have title contenders.
Summitt’s Lady Vols (30-4), seeded No. 1 the Mideast, had little trouble eliminating Alabama State and Virginia. Tennessee faces Penn State today on the Lady Vols’ home court at Knoxville, Tenn., where they are 42-0 in NCAA tournament games.
Summitt sounds excited about her team’s title chances, although last season’s Lady Vol team reached an NCAA-record 13th Final Four before losing to eventual champion Connecticut in a semifinal.
“This team has a better chemistry,” Summitt said. “It’s had stronger senior leadership due to the fact Kara [Lawson] and Gwen [Jackson] have taken on that responsibility. It is more balanced offensively. And we’re more versatile on the defensive end as well.”
Texas (27-5), seeded No. 2 in the West, has won 15 consecutive. The Longhorns are favored to end Minnesota’s surprising tournament run Sunday at Palo Alto.
“That’s what this team has done over the last couple of months of the season -- find a way to win,” said Conradt after Texas’ second-round 67-50 victory over Arkansas despite shooting only 39.7%. “We have finally figured out that, even when we don’t shoot well [there are] things we can do to influence the game.”
Neither coach shows signs of slowing down. But each had a moment where she almost left the bench permanently.
“It was 1984,” Summitt said. “We played [USC] for the national title, something we hadn’t yet won. That summer I also coached our Olympic team. And my dad, Richard Head, tried to convince me to get out of coaching because of the stress. I had convinced myself if we won the championship and a gold medal, I would really consider it.
“I appreciate Southern Cal didn’t let us do it, thanks to Linda Sharp, Cheryl Miller and Cynthia Cooper. But that was my only soul-searching period. I’ve always listened to my father, and I knew -- because of how much I would invest in every team and every game -- it would take a toll. But I’m thankful I didn’t because I would have regretted it -- and would probably be coaching somewhere else now.”
Conradt was almost burned out by trying to be coach and women’s athletic director from 1992 to the spring of 2001.
“Becoming an athletic director, that’s how people think you progress in [education],” Conradt said. “But I got very sad at the idea of not coaching, so it didn’t take long to say no. Then the next step was doing both jobs. Foolishly, I said yes.
“Dropping the AD duties re-energized me.”
For those coaches who see 800 victories as a viable goal -- LSU’s Sue Gunter (680) and Portland (621) are next in line -- Summitt and Conradt have advice.
“First, you win in life with people,” Summitt said. “I’ve been able to stay active with wonderful and loyal support from the university, the administrative staff, and great assistant coaches who get down in the trenches with me every day like it was their own program. Then you’ve got to have players. You only win year in and year out by having great competitors and players with the same goals and commitment with the program.”
Said Conradt: “I think it’s not being focused on the big goal, but day to day on little things. This is a business where you’d better live in the moment. That’s something we keep saying to our team. Don’t think past the next game or what you’ve accomplished up to this point. Live in the moment.”
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Let the Record Show
*--* The records of the Division I women’s basketball coaches with teams still playing in the NCAA tournament. Records are for Division I only Kurt Budke Louisiana Tech 31-2 1 Coach, School School Record Seasons Pat Summitt Tennessee 818-162 29 Jody Conradt Texas 815-263 34 Sue Gunter Louisiana State 680-299 39 Rene Portland Penn State 621-215 27 Andy Landers Georgia 585-178 24 Marsha Sharp Texas Tech 506-158 21 Geno Auriemma Connecticut 497-99 18 Ceal Barry Colorado 479-256 24 Harry Perretta Villanova 464-261 25 Muffet McGraw Notre Dame 451-178 21 Cathy Inglese Boston College 291-195 17 Gail Goestenkors Duke 270-83 11 Don Flanagan New Mexico 168-80 8 Kristy Curry Purdue 106-26 5 Pat Borton Minnesota 94-50 5
Coaches with more than 800 wins in men’s and women’s basketball: