NEW YORK — Pat Summitt and the Tennessee Lady Vols will return to Madison Square Garden to play DePaul in the sixth annual Maggie Dixon Classic on Dec. 11.
“Once again, it’s an honor for the Tennessee Lady Vols to be included in the Maggie Dixon Classic,” said Summitt, who surprised the sports world with her announcement last Tuesday that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia — the Alzheimer’s type. “It’s more than just a December doubleheader in Madison Square Garden, it’s an event to celebrate the memory of an outstanding co ach.”
Summitt is the winningest coach in the history of men’s or women’s college basketball.
Brittney Griner and the Baylor Lady Bears will play St. John’s in the opener of the Classic. The 6-foot-8 junior phenom had a great Garden debut as a freshman, scoring 25 points and blocking three shots in the Lady Bears win over Boston College in 2009.
Both Tennessee and DePaul will stay in the area after their games as the Lady Vols will visit Rutgers on Tuesday night and the Blue Demons will face Princeton the same evening.
“Tennessee will be No. 1 or 2 in the nation, going into the season and I expect Baylor to be the other one,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. “This is exactly what Jamie (Dixon) envisioned when he first called and told me what he was thinking with the Classic — having top teams playing in it every year.”
Jamie Dixon, Maggie’s brother and the head men’s coach at Pittsburgh, started the doubleheader in 2006.
UConn tied UCLA’s record 88-game winning streak in last year’s game in front of 15,232 fans beating Ohio State.
It’s the second time Tennessee has played in the Classic named for the former Army women’s coach. The Lady Vols beat Rutgers two years ago. The Scarlet Knights had played in all four of the previous Garden events. Army hosted Ohio State at West Point the first year.
Maggie Dixon died April 6, 2006, of arrhythmia, probably 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 as she led Army to its first-ever NCAA berth. The Cadets lost in the first round to Summitt’s Lady Vols.
DePaul is coming off one of its finest seasons, losing in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals to Duke. Dixon got her start as an assistant coach at DePaul under Bruno before she went on to Army.
While this will be DePaul’s first appearance in the Classic, the school has played in the Maggie Dixon Surf’N Slam Classic in San Diego. The Blue Demons have hosted a tournament in honor of the coach the past few seasons.
“It says something to remember Maggie in three different tournaments across the country,” Bruno said. “She earned the right and deserves it.”
St. John’s returns four starters from last season’s team that lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament, including forwards Da’Shena Stevens and Shenneika Smith.
The Garden will formally announce the Maggie Dixon Classic after Labor Day.