Commentary

Tennessee-Baylor: Plenty of history

Updated: March 26, 2012, 8:53 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Monday's regional final between No. 1 seed Baylor and No. 2 seed Tennessee (ESPN/ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) will be all about the present and future of women's basketball, with a game featuring stars who are so young in their overall careers.

But it will be about something else, too: the past of a sport that for years didn't have a lot of national press to chronicle its accomplishments. There is a great deal of oral history, especially if you find the right folks to talk about it, people such as Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and Tennessee assistant Mickie DeMoss.

DeMoss played at Louisiana Tech from 1974 to 1977, when the women's hoops program was just getting started.

[+] EnlargeMulkey-Summitt
AP PhotoBaylor's Kim Mulkey and Tennessee's Pat Summitt will meet again in Monday's regional final.

"If memory serves, unless it was recently broken, I think she holds the record for most shot attempts at Louisiana Tech," Mulkey joked of DeMoss. "So she was the selfish point guard that I never got to be."

DeMoss, a natural-born humorist, would get a kick out of that. In all seriousness, though, DeMoss praised Mulkey for how good a player she was at Louisiana Tech from 1980 to 1984.

"She was a phenomenal point guard," DeMoss said. "I was an assistant at Auburn when Kim was in her heyday as a player. We played a zone at Auburn, and [head coach] Joe Ciampi used to say, 'DeMoss, we have to keep Mulkey out of the paint; we can't let her get into the interior of our defense.' But we couldn't keep her out.

"She had a quick first step and was very crafty. She created looks for her teammates, and she was a leader. She took care of her post players, almost like a quarterback taking care of a wide receiver. I can remember talking to Kim even back then, and thinking, 'Kim knows exactly what she's doing.'"

DeMoss went to Tennessee as an assistant to coach Pat Summitt in 1985, the same year Mulkey became an assistant for Leon Barmore at Louisiana Tech. The Lady Vols and Lady Techsters played annually during the regular season from 1978-79 to 2008-09, and the programs also met for some epic postseason games during that span.

Mulkey never lost to Tennessee as a player, either in the regular season or postseason. In 1981, when she was a freshman, Louisiana Tech won the national championship and went 34-0, beating Tennessee 79-59 in the title game of the next-to-last AIAW tournament. The next year, Louisiana Tech and Tennessee were among the schools that moved to the new NCAA tournament, while the AIAW tourney had its swan song. Tech won the first NCAA title that year, beating Tennessee 69-46 in the 1982 Elite Eight. DeMoss was a head coach at Florida then.

"In 1982, Louisiana Tech handed Tennessee their behinds," DeMoss said. "And I remember Pat saying to me -- I just knew her as an acquaintance at that time -- 'I will stay in coaching until I beat Leon Barmore.' So, at that point, Leon was motivating Pat."

Barmore, a co-head coach at Tech with chief recruiter Sonja Hogg, was the bench coach and expert strategist who brought a lot of innovation to the women's game. (He would fully take over the program in 1985.)

"I remember playing against his teams, and everything was hard," DeMoss said. "Getting a shot against them, defending them, you knew it was going to be a grind. They didn't give you easy shots or make many mistakes. He always had a low-post presence, great perimeter [players] and good defenders on the wing. To me, they really refined the practice where [on defense] they pushed you off the block. You'd get pushed to the wing if you weren't strong enough."

To combat that, Tech's opponents needed to get bigger and stronger.

"I came to Tennessee in 1985 and Pat said to me, 'We've got to get better athletes,'" DeMoss said. "So, with the talent level better, Louisiana Tech was chasing us for a while. Then we were chasing them again. That was a very, very intense rivalry for a long time.

"Leon and Pat, they have a great relationship now. When they were competing head to head, it wasn't great, but he calls me now to check on her. Those two programs and that rivalry really raised the bar for women's basketball. And I see a lot of Leon in Kim, and the way her teams play."

Mulkey was right in the thick of the rivalry, first as a player and then as a very intense and active assistant.

One of Mulkey's protégés at point guard, Teresa Weatherspoon, played against Tennessee in the Final Four two consecutive years (1987 and 1988). Tennessee won the 1987 NCAA final 67-44, the first of Summitt's eight national championships. The next year, Louisiana Tech won the teams' semifinal showdown 68-59 before defeating Auburn in the title game.

During Mulkey's time as an assistant, the Lady Techsters and Lady Vols met two additional times in the NCAA tournament. In 1994, Louisiana Tech won their Sweet 16 matchup 71-68. Tech went on to the national championship game and lost in the most thrilling (or heartbreaking, depending on your point of view) ending to a women's title game. North Carolina's Charlotte Smith made a 3-pointer with seven-tenths of second left to give the Tar Heels a 60-59 win.

In 1998, Tennessee finished off a perfect 39-0 season by beating Louisiana Tech 93-75 in the final. Mulkey stayed at Tech through 2000. After she couldn't come to an agreement with the Tech administration on the length of her contract to become head coach for the retired Barmore, she went to Baylor.

Monday will be the third time Mulkey faces Tennessee in the NCAA tournament; she's 1-1 against the Lady Vols in the postseason as Baylor's coach. On Sunday, she talked about her history with Summitt and Tennessee.

"Somewhere in that span of the dominance of our program at Louisiana Tech in the '80s, she kept saying, 'I want to be what Louisiana Tech is,' and she kept playing us," Mulkey said. "Now, here it is however many years later, and Pat Summitt is the pinnacle of what we all want to be."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.