When you've been in the basketball business for 30-some years, you're bound to run up against friends.
For Pat Summitt, the regional tournament has been a difficult week.
First, she had to knock out her good friend C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers in the Sweet 16 on Sunday.
Now, she will take her Tennessee team (31-4) up against Sylvia Hatchell of North Carolina (32-1) in tonight's Elite Eight matchup for a chance to advance to the Final Four, April 2-4 in Boston.
Hatchell and Summitt began their coaching careers together in 1974 while they were both graduate students at the University of Tennessee. Summitt took over the varsity Lady Vols while Hatchell coached the junior varsity. Hatchell then moved on to coach 11 seasons at Francis Marion College in South Carolina, where she won NAIA and AIAW titles.
"It's a friendship that dates back 32 years when we were in grad school and she coached the JV team for me," Summitt said. "We started a great friendship and working relationship and I have tremendous respect for Sylvia and value her as a dear friend in the profession. . . . What's important for us to remember is that friendship is one thing and competition is something else."
The competition is something that Hatchell rediscovered her love for recently. She became a more devoted student of the game, calling on men's coaches across the country to pick their brains about anything and everything related to basketball. She recruited the personnel for a run-you-down-to-death style that has earned her not only a second straight No. 1 seed but the respect of many in the business.
"After we beat Duke [a 74-70 win on Jan. 29 in Durham] John Calipari [of Memphis] called me and said, 'Girl, I want my team to play like North Carolina does,' " Hatchell said. "First of all, I want to win games for North Carolina but I also want to bring attention to the women's game. I want people to embrace women's basketball and talk about how much fun it is. . . . Our style is not for everybody but it works for us and we enjoy it."
The keys for the game for both teams revolve around something simple -- controlling tempo.
For Tennessee, that means limiting turnovers and rebounding well.
"Certainly No. 1 you have take care of the basketball and you need to control the defensive rebounds," Summitt said. "That's how you control tempo. I'm not opposed to running. You can run at people or you can run with people. I prefer to run at them."
For North Carolina, it's about avoiding the flat start it had against Purdue in the semifinals and keeping tabs on a host of talented Lady Vols.
"Candace Parker is a great player but she's not the entire Tennessee team," Hatchell said. "They have a lot of great players. I think you just have to have a good game plan and give them some different looks."
With George Mason making the men's Final Four as an 11th seed, the questions linger about parity in the women's game and if a No. 11 could ever succeed in it.
"The men have a talent pool that we don't," Summitt said. "You have to understand that as we expand, the depth of talent will get better. Right now I'm looking at seventh, eighth, ninth graders who are better than even two or three years ago. That will give us more parity."
The question was a bit more personal for Hatchell.
"I'm pulling for George Mason because they beat our guys," Hatchell said. "The more they win, it makes our guys look good."