UK Women's Basketball

UK women's basketball notes: Ovation for Summitt preceded emotional victory

Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt commented to an official in the first half of the Tennessee at Kentucky women's basketball game at Memorial Coliseum, in Lexington, Ky., on Jan. 12, 2012. Kentucky won 61-60. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt commented to an official in the first half of the Tennessee at Kentucky women's basketball game at Memorial Coliseum, in Lexington, Ky., on Jan. 12, 2012. Kentucky won 61-60. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

There was plenty of emotion during the game.

Tennessee and Kentucky are two top-10 teams after all.

But there was plenty of emotion before the game even got going.

There was Coach Pat Summitt making her first trip to Memorial Coliseum since being diagnosed with early-onset dementia.

The Tennessee head coach has been a friend and mentor of UK Coach Matthew Mitchell for years. He was a graduate assistant for Summitt at UT.

She also was the head coach of UK assistants Shalon Pillow and Kyra Elzy, who both played for the Lady Vols.

Mitchell embraced Summitt for a long time with a swarm of cameras all around.

"I told her I loved her and I'm thinking about her and everything she's going through," he said after No. 9 Kentucky topped sixth-ranked Tennessee 61-60.

He said he told Summitt the same things he always tells her before the two teams face off. "I tell Pat before every game that I wouldn't be here without her," he said. "I tell her that every time, and it's true."

Mitchell said he was so pleased to see the 7,961 in Memorial Coliseum rise and cheer for Summitt.

"They did exactly what first-class people should do," he said. "They gave her a great ovation."

Seeing the place packed and "rockin'," as Mitchell called it in his post-game comments, despite the snow and ice outside warmed the coach's heart.

He said it was exactly the kind of environment he and former Kentucky head coach (now Tennessee assistant) Mickie DeMoss imagined when she took the job in Lexington in 2003.

He was an assistant coach on her first staff at UK.

"Tonight was what we envisioned," he said. "Kentucky has great fans, great crowd."

He spent a few moments chatting with DeMoss before tipoff, too.

"I told her before the game that tonight wouldn't have happened without her," Mitchell said. "She started it all. She started every ounce of this. ... It was tough when we showed up.

"She taught me how to be a head coach, and she had a big hand in building this program and that's what I told her before the game."

Snowden's big night

Mitchell told his team to show no fear against Tennessee and to come out swinging.

He thought no player did that more on Thursday night than senior Keyla Snowden, who scored 11 points and snatched a career-best four steals in the Cats' win.

"I thought she embodied that attitude we wanted more than anybody," Mitchell said afterward. "She fought tonight and did exactly what we asked her to do."

He knows it hasn't always been easy for the former Lexington Catholic standout who transferred in from Akron.

"I'm really, really proud of Keyla Snowden," he said. "She has taken a lot of grief from her coach over the years and she has stepped up big in the final semester of her final year. She was huge in the game tonight."

Snowden scored seven straight as part of the big run that gave UK its largest lead of the game (12 points).

"It feels great," Snowden said after the win, Kentucky's fourth straight. "I'm ecstatic and I'm so excited for my teammates and my coaches and our program."

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