On Feb. 2, 2009, Oklahoma denied legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt a milestone win during a regular-season game in Oklahoma City.
Summitt was going for win No. 1,000. But the Sooners “put on a show that day” in front of thousands of fans, national media and a national TV audience, beating Tennessee 80-70.
Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale smiled when a media member brought up the game during interviews at the NCAA Tournament Oklahoma City Regional on Saturday.
“What I remember most about that is Oklahoma did put on a show,” Coale said. “I'm not talking about my basketball team, I'm talking about the state, that environment, and it was nationally televised. ... Whether you were a women's basketball fan or not, everybody was watching. I think Bob Knight was calling the game, for heaven's sakes.”
Coale reflected on that game a lot this week since her Sooners are about to face the Lady Vols in their Sweet 16 game on Sunday. This week, the networks replayed that game. Coale said she responded to multiple text messages from friends who were still amazed at the game and then-freshman Whitney Hand's hot streak.
“That was sort of the opening window of ‘this is who Whitney Hand is' for the rest of the world,” Coale said. “Physically, her career didn't play out the way the rest of us wanted it to. The light she brings, the way she makes a part of all things better, that continued throughout and is still happening today.”
FOLLOWING A LEGEND
Sunday marks Tennessee's first Sweet 16 game not under the direct instruction of Summitt.
Summitt, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia in August 2011, is in her first year as head coach emeritus. Longtime Lady Vols assistant coach Holly Warlick is now at the helm.
So what's it like succeeding a legend? Easy? Difficult?
“Well, I think if you think about it, it's difficult to follow a legend,” Warlick said. “I just don't let myself go there. Pat was my coach. She was a mentor for me. Now, she's a great friend of mine. So I see Pat in a different light than probably everybody else, which is a great thing for me.
“She's still around. I still love her around. I want her at every practice. I talk to her daily. But I can't let myself go there. When I think you're coaching at the University of Tennessee, following Pat Summitt, it blows my mind a little bit. So I don't let myself go there.”
TEXAS' DUNK CITY
Waco, Texas, became “Dunk City” the last few weeks for Baylor's women's basketball's Senior Night and then for the NCAA Tournament site.
Brittney Griner's first dunk at home came during her freshman year. Then she didn't dunk again until the regular-season finale her senior year.
Then last Tuesday, in Baylor's second game of the NCAA Tournament held in Waco, Griner dunked three times against Florida State.
Baylor forward Brooklyn Pope said Griner's dunks were great for the crowd.
“It was great for everyone who supports us, Baylor, Waco,” Pope said. “I felt like all that adrenaline pumping inside the gym, all the positive energy on behalf of Baylor, just really helped our team know that this is the last time we're going to play at this gym in front of this crowd.
“I'm happy we went out the way that we did. The crowd got to see BG dunk. She rarely ever dunked in Waco. She always dunked away, which is weird. But she gave 'em three. It was three of her best dunks ever — so far.”
ROSS: 2012-13 TEAM WILL ‘ALWAYS HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE IN MY LIFE'
Sitting in the locker room before practice Saturday, assistant coach Jan Ross choked up talking about this year's group of Oklahoma players.
Ross, in her 17th year as an OU assistant, was diagnosed with breast cancer last April and fought through chemotherapy treatments last summer.
Today, Ross is cancer-free and “feels great,” she said, adding that the 2012-13 team will always be special to her.
“This group of kids ... it's a special group,” Ross said. “They helped me through a lot. Regardless of what happens or how long we still play, they'll always have a special place in my life because they helped me through a not-so-good time. I love them all.”
TENNESSEE'S OKLAHOMA CITY REGIONAL HISTORY
The last time Tennessee played in the NCAA Tournament regional site in Oklahoma City, the Lady Vols had a winning outcome.
In 2008, Tennessee faced Notre Dame, then Texas A&M, winning both before advancing to the Final Four in Tampa, Fla. where the Lady Vols beat LSU and Stanford to win the national title.
Warlick recalled that weekend when she spoke with the media Saturday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“You can't forget that opportunity we had here,” she said. “Great crowd. We played Texas A&M in the finals. Very eventful for us.”
TO STOP GRINER OR NOT TO STOP GRINER?
Some teams are known for doing crazy, odd, uncanny things to try to beat an opponent everyone thinks is unbeatable.
Baylor's dominance in the last few years has left a lot of teams desperate to find a way to win, or even keep the score close.
Louisville coach Jeff Walz has his own plan.
“I'm trying to put six,” Walz said. “I'm hoping our officials are bad at math ... and we just get 'em real confused.”
The media laughed as Walz grinned. So how do you stop Baylor? Walz believes you don't.
“Instead of getting all concerned about how you are going to stop Brittney Griner from scoring 30, forget it, she's going to,” he said. “Figure out a way how we can score 70. If we can figure that out, then you might have a chance to get the last five minutes of the ballgame where shots start to matter.
“With the success they've had, it's been a while since a shot's mattered in the last four or five minutes of the game.”
COALE, HAND SHARE SPECIAL BOND
Coale enjoys close personal relationships with all her players, but her bond with Hand is undeniably special.
That connection made Hand's career-ending ACL tear all the more difficult.
Hand injured the knee late in the first half of Oklahoma's Dec. 6 win over North Texas. After the game that night, Coale went to Hand's home and visited with her, her father Rich Hand and her husband, former OU quarterback Landry Jones.
“That really helped me process things,” Coale said. “I told her at that time, ‘I'm not ready to tell you all the things that I want to tell you when we're done. I'm not ready yet.' It was good to have those moments.”
Hand said the in-home visit that night was just more evidence of what she already knew about her coach.
“She came over to my house that night and just cried with me,” Hand said. “You know that it's real to her, and that she loves you, not just for what you can do on the court, but for who you are as a person.”
Baylor star Griner on her free spirit and how it's helped her deal with some of the national attention: “Definitely. Like a butterfly in a cocoon coming out.”