For the first time in nearly four decades – and the first time ever when it takes the floor against Auburn – the vaunted Tennessee women’s program is not under the watch of college basketball’s winningest coach (men or women) as Summitt has stepped down from her post to battle early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s a new era for No. 9 Tennessee, with longtime assistant Holly Warlick taking over the Lady Vols (13-3, 4-0 SEC).
This is when the upstart Auburn women’s basketball team finds out truly how far it has come. Under first-year coach Terri Williams-Flourney, the Tigers (13-4, 2-2) opened 12-2, including a nine-game winning streak capped by an upset victory Jan. 3 against No. 23 Arkansas. That was the program’s first win over a ranked opponent in two years.
Auburn is 10-36 all-time against 8-time national champion Tennessee, in a series going back to 1980. The Tigers are a perfect 9-0 at Auburn Arena, but that gets put on the line tonight against the Lady Vols at 9 p.m. ET in a game broadcast by CSS.
“I think it makes a different in the fact that the kids, the players, feel the support,” Williams-Flournoy said. “Tennessee brings a good crowd and it’s no fun to play in front of someone else’s fans. I remember as a student-athlete it felt really good when you walked out there and had a lot of fan support screaming for you.”
The night falls during the SEC-sponsored “We Back Pat Week”, bringing awareness and recognition to the Pat Summitt Foundation, which is fighting Alzheimer’s. T-shirts, wristbands and other items have been sold at patsummitt.org, and supporters may text the word “COACH” to 50555 to donate $10 to the foundation.
This is the middle game of Auburn’s three-game stretch against currently ranked opponents. The Tigers lost 78-56 at No. 20 Texas A&M, and travels to No. 5 Kentucky Sunday.
Auburn senior Blanche Alverson scored her 1,000th career point last week in a victory over Ole Miss, and sits five rebounds short of 500 for her career. She is set to become the fourth Tiger with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 100 steals, 100 assists and 50 blocks.
“For our players because they have never beaten Tennessee, it is really more important for them,” Williams-Flourney said. “I’ve experienced things that our players have not, so I think it would be a great experience for them to beat Tennessee.”