COLUMBIA, SC – South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley has many memories of legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, though not all are happy. In fact, Staley credits a loss to Summitt’s Lady Vols in her freshman year at Virginia with changing the trajectory of her basketball career.
“We lost to them by 33 points and it’s etched in my memory. From that loss is when I just swore to myself and our team that it would never happen again,” Staley said. “And we may have lost to them (again), but it wasn’t by 33 points. That’s the kind of impact and impression, good or bad, that Coach Summitt had on people.”
The SEC dedicates a week to the We Back Pat campaign each year in honor of Summitt’s life and legacy. Each team hosts a game that supports the Pat Summitt Foundation to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and funds for research. Summitt was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2011 and died in 2016 at the age of 63.
The Gamecocks (19-0, 7-0 SEC) will play their We Back Pat game against Arkansas (17-4, 4-2) at Colonial Life Arena on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
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Staley crossed paths with Summitt regularly, both as a player and coach. At Virginia, she faced Summitt’s Tennessee teams three years in a row in the NCAA Tournament from 1989-91. The Lady Vols beat Staley’s Cavaliers in 1989 – by 33 points – and in 1991 won the national championship both years. Virginia took a four-point overtime victory in 1990.
After taking over as South Carolina’s coach in 2008, Staley faced Summitt eight times before the Lady Vols coach resigned after the 2011-12 season. The Gamecocks won just one of those meetings, 64-60, in Summitt’s final season.
“If you’ve been in the game long enough, she’s impacted you, whether it’s losing to them or just being around the recruiting trail imparting knowledge and information to grow the game,” Staley said. “We must continue to honor the disease that took her life, and also just her legacy because she has meant so much to our game. There will never be another Pat Summitt.”
A decade after her retirement, Summitt remains one of the most successful coaches in the history of women’s college basketball. During 38 years at Tennessee, she led the Lady Vols to eight national championships and is one of only three coaches to win back-to-back titles. She is the second winningest coach of all time, finishing her career in 2012 with a record of 1,098-208.