As the final buzzer sounded, the sports town known as Rocky Top undoubtedly fell completely silent as the Tennessee Lady Vols fell to Brittany Griner and the Baylor Lady Bears by the final score of 77 to 58. It wasn't the fact that this was the first senior class in Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt's thirty-seven year tenure that failed to reach a Final Four in their time at Knoxville—a remarkable feat that will never be duplicated at any level of college basketball—that left the Tennessee faithful speechless, nor was it about Summitt's past; it was the uncertainty that clouds her future. As Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey and the Lady Bears celebrated and moved another step closer to a championship, a more somber, serious storyline presented itself on the opposing sideline: is this the last the basketball world will ever see of Pat Head Summitt?
It wasn't supposed to be like this for Summitt, who many would consider to rank among the Woodens and Coach Ks of the college basketball coaching elite, but seven months ago she made the announcement that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. It seemed that she had been experiencing trouble with tasks that the coaching legend had normally accomplished with ease, things like remembering what plays her Lady Vols needed to run or what time a team meeting was scheduled for, and after a visit to the doctor the fifty-nine year old was diagnosed with the disease that affects approximately 5.4 million people in the United States alone. Because of how strong a fighter Summitt is, she wouldn't step away from her team, instead spreading some of her duties around to some of her longtime assistant coaches in hopes that with enough effort from those around her the team would continue to run like the finely tuned machine that Summitt has engineered for so long.
The season went as smoothly as possible for Tennessee given the situation the team's head coach was facing day in and day out, as the Lady Vols finished the season with a 24-8 record and won the SEC tournament, the sixteenth tournament championship for Tennessee under Summitt's guidance. Entering the NCAA tournament, the Lady Vols were slated as a #2 seed, a promising status had it not meant eventually having to face the best team in the country in Baylor if Tennessee could even make it that far. They finished the drill against DePaul on March 19th and then again against Kansas five days later, setting up the matchup with Baylor. Tennessee fought hard throughout but just couldn't effectively match up with the undefeated Lady Bears, eventually losing by nineteen points and ending the 2011-2012 season in the process.
Once the game was over and the players shook hands, the television cameras keyed in on the meeting behind Summitt and Mulkey. Mulkey gave Summitt a big hug and talked to the coach for a few moments, both coaches appearing to show how much they appreciated the other before they headed back to their respective school's locker room. “It's personally tough for me to coach against Pat Summitt knowing what she's going through,” Coach Mulkey told an ESPN reporter, echoing the same sentiment that we can assume that all twenty-six coaches that faced her teams this year held. Pat Summitt has a long road ahead of her and her fight against Alzheimer's disease, and whether or not the struggle still involves leading the Lady Vols onto the court, it is clear to any person with knowledge about this woman from Clarksville, Tennessee that one thing is for certain: she will not go down without a fight.