Rutgers and Tennessee Meet Again: This Time in New York

(Guru's note: Here's the AP advanced by Doug Feinberg for the Maggie Dixon Classic. The Guru will either be in Delaware for La Salle or at St. Joe's-Drexel in Philly prior to the Sunday night desk shift. A later blog will recap Saturday's local action.)

By DOUG FEINBERG
ASSOCIATED PRESS


NEW YORK — Pat Summitt always loves coming to New York.

Summitt and her fourth-ranked Lady Vols will face C. Vivian Stringer and Rutgers in the second game of the fourth annual Maggie Dixon Classic on Sunday. Sixth-ranked Baylor and star Brittney Griner will face Boston College in the opener of the doubleheader.

“Most of our kids haven’t ever been to New York City before and we try and let them experience a little of the city,” Summitt said. “We’re going to see a show and have dinner in Times Square.”

And play in one of the most famous arenas in basketball.

It will be the seventh straight year that the two Hall of Fame coaches, with a combined 1,844 victories, will match wits. The two teams played twice before at Madison Square Garden almost a decade ago, with Tennessee winning both times.

The last two meetings between the Lady Vols and Scarlet Knights were thrillers: Tennessee beat Rutgers on a controversial finish two years ago in Knoxville, and last season the Scarlet Knights built a 20-point halftime lead only to see the Lady Vols complete the biggest comeback in school history in a 55-51 win.

“We always seem to have exciting games,” Summitt said. “The defensive pressure that Rutgers can bring is something you can’t simulate.”

It’s the third straight season that the Scarlet Knights will play in the Classic, named for the former Army women’s coach. Rutgers routed Army and Connecticut beat Penn State in front of nearly 9,500 fans last year.

“I feel honored that Jamie (Dixon) would allow us to continue playing in the Maggie Dixon Classic, and I hope that we can get a lot of fans to support it,” Stringer said.

Many of those fans will get their first glimpse of Griner, who became the seventh women’s basketball player to dunk in a game earlier this season. The 6-foot-7 phenom is averaging 16 points and 8.4 rebounds this season.

“I can sense in the crowd that whenever I get the ball they are excited to see me dunk,” Griner said. “It’s almost like if I lay it up there’s some disappointment.”

At practice on Saturday, Griner threw one down on a fastbreak only to sheepishly smile when her teammates pointed out a sign on the backboard of the New York Athletic Club that said “No Slam Dunks.”

“It’s still just two points,” Griner said. “My eyes really light up on the defensive end when I can block or alter a shot.”
While Griner and many of the other Baylor players have never been to New York, coach Kim Mulkey actually played twice at Madison Square Garden. Her Louisiana Tech team beat Rutgers in 1980 and ’81.

“I tried to tell my team about the history of the Garden and all the greats who have stepped on that floor,” said Mulkey, admitting she hasn’t told her team she played there.

Maggie Dixon never got the chance to coach at the Garden. She died on April 6, 2006, of arrhythmia, likely caused by an enlarged heart.

Her death came three weeks after her first season as a head coach, a performance that won the admiration of the academy and all of college basketball.

The inaugural Maggie Dixon Classic was held at Army in 2006 — a men’s and women’s doubleheader. The Pittsburgh men, coached by Maggie’s brother Jamie, beat Western Michigan, while Ohio State routed Army.

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