Last night, Muffet McGraw earned her first career win over Pat Summitt. The Notre Dame women had lost 20 straight games to the Tennessee Volunteers before McGraw's squad — led by its phenomenal sophomore guard, Skylar Diggins — defeated the No. 1 Vols 73-59 in Dayton last night. This was a bittersweet moment for women's college hoops: With it, we lose out on what would have been the first UConn-Tennessee/Geno-Pat matchup in over four years, but at the same time we're treated to a rare moment of mild parity on the distaff side. A No. 2 seed actually defeated a No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four, and in the women's game that's pretty close to a No. 11 seed beating a No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four. (I exaggerate, but only slightly.)
But to answer the inevitable question — is this good for women's basketball? — you first have to watch Summitt as she attempts to make sense of her team's loss. Summitt has a unique way of dealing with demoralized players, such as her star freshman guard Meighan Simmons, who was just 1-for-11 from the field in 19 minutes of play, and that unique way is undisguised public shaming.
"I thought she was overanxious," she said of Simmons's play. "I'm just very, very, very disappointed in 'em," she told ESPN after the game. In this regard, Summitt nearly stands alone in the clique of terrifying hardass college basketball coaches: Even Frank Martin found it within him to praise his departing seniors after Kansas State's third-round loss to Wisconsin. Summitt's response, seen above, was to bring them down further. She shoved them in front of a moving bus and acted as if they should have been honored for the hard lesson.
But a Tennessee loss, much like with Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils, is always more about Summitt than it is about her players. That's because in 37 years of coaching in Knoxville, she has often conflated her ego with her teams and their progress. She long ago reached the point at which a Tennessee women's basketball team became a Pat Summitt women's basketball team. That's a testament to her ability more than anything else, but its significance deteriorates when, as happened last night, one of her teams gets squarely beaten by a better defensive team and afterward she can't muster a kind word for her players' efforts at the end of a 34-3 season. Those quotes yesterday were an ugly exercise in a brand-name coach trying frantically to distance herself from a bad product. "Them," she said, instead of "we." Suddenly the Pat Summitt team was now a generic Tennessee team.
Summitt's loss is likely the closest we'll come to our Duke moment in the women's tournament, because UConn (3-0 against Notre Dame this year) will probably not lose, no matter how many people don't really give a shit about their winning, and because we're talking about a competition in which a No. 2 seed reaching the Final Four is about as mad as March Madness gets around here. Pat Summitt just got Duked out of the tournament, which is always cause for rejoicing, but the sport at large got Duked out of maybe the most anticipated game in years, which is cause for everyone to ignore the rest of the tournament. Summitt's misery is women's college basketball's misery. You know things are bad for a sport when you can't take unmitigated pleasure in watching a bully lose.
Video via ESPN.