Justin Hayworth/The Register
Tennessee's Shekinna Stricklen and Baylor's Odyssey Sims exchange words after a foul during the NCAA women's tournament regional semifinal championship game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday March 26, 2012.
By Marc Hansen | Des Moines RegisterDES MOINES, Iowa -
A college basketball team with an Odyssey in the starting lineup, especially one who scores 27 points in the biggest game of the season, is probably in for a long journey.
Baylor, which advances to the Final Four after winning its 38th straight game of the season Monday night, is such a team. Throw in a rugged-rebounding Destiny, a sharpshooting Kimetria and a shot-blocking 6-foot-8 Brittney, and the road doesn't end in Des Moines. It runs all the way to Denver.
But while the Lady Bears moved within two victories of a second national title with their 77-58 victory over Tennessee, it's hard to say what the immediate future holds for the coaching legend on the other bench.
After 38 years and an NCAA-record 1,098 victories at Tennessee, the question remains: Did Pat Summitt end one of the greatest coaching careers ever -- man or woman, any sport -- at Wells Fargo Arena?
Last summer, after a trip to the Mayo Clinic, doctors told Summitt she had early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. In August, she went public with the diagnosis.
When the NCAA Tournament began two weeks ago, she told a UT publicist she still wanted to coach. Nothing has changed, the publicist said Monday night, as far she knew.
On the bench, Summitt doesn't do much hands-on coaching anymore. Against Baylor, she sat between assistants Dean Lockwood and Mickie DeMoss while associate head coach Holly Warlick stood at the end of the bench and directed traffic.
Every so often, Summitt would get up and walk to the front of the coaching box and yell at an official or shout instructions to a player. You don't see the Summitt stare as much anymore, but the fire is there.
During the short timeouts, the Lady Vols always made room for her in the huddle while mostly Warlick held court.
Among the many duties Summitt has delegated away this season is the postgame interview. Warlick, in her 27th year at Tennessee, wiped away a tear when she talked about her longtime boss and tried to keep it light when someone asked her about the boss' spunk on the sideline.
"That's Pat," she said. "Her love of the game -- she hasn't lost that. She may forget where her phone is, but she's not going to forget to yell at the officials. She's still competitive. I don't care what disease she has. She's going to go down swinging."
She said Summitt even joked about Warlick misplacing her phone and hinting that maybe more than one coach was fighting dementia.
The scene in the locker room afterward was emotional. There was much to digest. The game had ended with the ejection of three Baylor players who left the bench during a skirmish. One of those players was star center Brittney Griner, who was trying to play peacekeeper.
Would she be suspended for the national semifinal game? For a time, some thought that was possible.
But Griner's Final Four eligibility meant nothing to the players in the Tennessee locker room, where most of the thoughts were with Summitt.
"I look at her," starting forward Alicia Manning said, "and I just see this woman who is so strong and has been through so much. They say she's meant so much to women's basketball. That's not enough. She's meant everything to women's sports, period.
"They call it the University of Tennessee. They should change it to the University of Pat Summitt for all she's done."
Playing for Summitt -- what did it mean?
"It's an honor," Manning said, tear tracks on her cheeks. "I never took it for granted, not for a second. ... She's going to continue to touch people's lives, no matter what happens."
The Lady Vols' season hadn't ended the way the players -- past as well as present -- had hoped. Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey played on the U.S. Olympic champion team in 1984. Summitt was the coach.
After the game the two hugged, and Mulkey told Summitt she loved her. In the interview room, she tried to keep it light.
"Y'all talk about me dressing up," she said. "Have you seen pictures of her back in her day? That woman dress, too, now. Go back and look at her clothing, look at her hairstyle. You learn from people like that."
At the University of Summitt, there are still many majors to choose from.