John Adams: Backing Pat done with support for foundation, rout on court

News Sentinel Publisher Patrick Birmingham, left, presents a check to the Pat Summitt Foundation before an NCAA college basketball game against Alabama, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 in Knoxville, Tenn. Next to Birmingham are Pat Summitt, Adam Waller and Patrick Wade of the Pat Summitt Foundation. (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)

Photo by Wade Payne, copyright © 2013

News Sentinel Publisher Patrick Birmingham, left, presents a check to the Pat Summitt Foundation before an NCAA college basketball game against Alabama, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 in Knoxville, Tenn. Next to Birmingham are Pat Summitt, Adam Waller and Patrick Wade of the Pat Summitt Foundation. (Photo by Wade Payne, Special to the News Sentinel)

Tennessee continued a couple of familiar and popular themes Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena. It backed Pat and beat Bama.

The backing upstaged the beating. And it began before the Lady Vols won their 39th consecutive game against Alabama in appropriate fashion, 96-69.

Many fans in the crowd of 12,512 donned "We Back Pat" shirts for the occasion, as Tennessee took its turn in honoring the Lady Vols former coach in her fight against Alzheimer's.

Sunday's game was the culmination of "We Back Pat" week, which was promoted by the SEC with the intent of bringing attention to the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund.

The foundation received more than attention Sunday. The News Sentinel, Sam's Club and SEC officials presented Summitt with checks totaling $32,145.

Summitt was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2011 but coached through the 2011-12 season. Although the illness forced her to retire after last season, she has continued to wage her fight against the disease in a public forum.

That has paid off for Alzheimer's research. Both organizations and fans have rallied to the cause.

For example, Tennessee assistant coach Kyra Elzy, who played under Summitt, and her husband pledged $50 per Tennessee victory in conference play to Summitt's foundation. She's attracted more contributors. The group now donates a total of $599 per victory.

Other SEC women's basketball coaches delivered prerecorded messages on Summitt's behalf during halftime. But the most heartfelt response came in pregame when the UT coaches and players walked across the court and embraced Summitt one by one.

"It was really emotional for us," UT junior guard Meighan Simmons said. "She told everyone of us, 'Let's go.' "

Summitt, who currently serves as the program's head coach emeritus, then sat back with everyone else and watched ninth-ranked Tennessee roll to its eighth consecutive victory.

Given the recent history of the series, the Tide actually matched the Lady Vols longer than fans might have expected. UT, which won its two previous games with Alabama by a total of 95 points, was tied 18-all with 11:54 to play in the first half.

The Lady Vols promptly reeled off six consecutive points, and the game was never the same. While the one-sided outcome was typical of the series, it was a striking departure from Tennessee's previous two victories.

The Lady Vols needed an overtime period to overcome Florida in Gainesville a week earlier and had to come from behind to beat Auburn on Thursday night. No late-game charge was required against the Tide. Midway

through the second half, Warlick already was extending her bench and the team was on its way to meeting pregame expectations.

"We showed (the players) a couple of films of people honoring Pat," Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick said, "to show what this game meant to us and our team.

"They wanted to play this (game) in honor of that. Hopefully, (Summitt) saw what she has built this program on. And that's hard work."

Playing for Summitt is nothing unusual for the veteran players on this team. And while the legendary coach was a featured attraction on this afternoon, her long-standing relationship with players hasn't been drastically affected by her change of roles.

"When I come back here in 15 years, I will still think of her as my coach," senior Taber Spani said. "She's always going to be coach to us."

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 3

wigmeister writes:

A lot of fun watching the ladies work when they play as a team!

ps11824 writes:

Pat is so strong and so brave. What she is doing is not an easy thing to do. Her strength and conviction is absolutely amazing and so inspirational.

jmaples54 writes:

good to see pat get the continued attention. good article, adams.

by the way, born2ride thinks you are a "hoot." don't ask me what he's talking about.

runningwiththevols wants a few original insights. he's going to espn (and perhaps will spare us his "analysis."

bigorangesmoker thinks you're a "looser". he must not read all the posts trying to teach him to spell. or think an original thought, like running says.

rumblefish calls you "captain obvious." he's obviously much more intelligent than these other "looser" trolls, i guess.

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