The name “Pat” rings a bell when listing the names that have headlined the history of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. “Summit” is the surname that typically follows.
At the University of Idaho, that’s not necessarily the case — Dobratz comes to mind just as frequently.
As the Idaho women’s basketball team meets its most fearsome foe since 1985, a NCAA Tournament contest with Geno Auriemmo and the historically dominant UConn Huskies, Pat Dobratz’s name is one that Vandal fans may hear repeatedly leading up to tipoff Saturday in Storrs, Conn.
Dobratz’s claim to fame — the only other Idaho coach that has led the Vandals into the Big Dance.
Twenty-eight years have separated the 1985 Vandals and Jon Newlee’s 2012-13 WAC champion Idaho squad.
Dobratz was at the helm, and her unique, unorthodox coaching style produced a 28-2 record and No. 17 ranking in the USA Today-CNN Poll.
“I thought she was kind of crazy,” Mary Westerwelle, a 6-foot-4 forward on the ’85 team said. “She used to come at us with a broom, all sorts of crazy stuff … When somebody hit you when you were shooting, you were used to having something in your face, it made it easier to have the high field goal percentages we had this year.”
The Vandals were a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, matched up with No. 4 USC, the two-time defending national champions. It was a stacked Trojan team with the likes of Sheryl Miller, a WNBA hall of famer and the sister of NBA standout Reggie Miller, as well as Cynthia Cooper, a two-time WNBA MVP. Not to mention sisters Paula and Pam McGee, who both carried out notable WNBA careers.
“Our little school was playing a big powerhouse and it was a little intimidating,” Westerwelle said. “You start thinking ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Sheryl Miller, Pam and Paul McGee, these guys won last year. The top three players in the nation.”
A 73-51 loss to USC in Los Angeles at the NCAA Tournament concluded the winningest season in school history.
“I think we had the confidence going in there that we could compete, we lost by 23 but we thought we had a chance,” said Robin Barnes, a junior guard on the ’85 team.
Still star struck by the USC greats they were guarding, the Vandals may not have recognized their own star power.
Westerwelle and 6-foot-4 All-American center Mary Raese made up the “twin towers”, a lethal post combination that dominated the likes of Boise State, Washington State and Oregon in Mountain West Conference play.
Then there was Barnes, a MWC all-conference honorable mention guard.
Now the head coach for the Moscow High School girls’ basketball team, the Vandals’ ex-point guard described the most successful women’s team in school history as one that was well rounded and unselfish.
“When you have two 6’4 girls on the same team, one with finesse and one with a lot of brute strength, we had everything,” Barnes. “And then the guards that we had, we’d get out and run a lot and we were really aggressive. I thought we had almost every component of a team on that year’s team.”
Not only did the Dobratz era yield some of the best results in Idaho history, it brought out maximum support from the student body in addition to the Moscow community.
The Vandals attracted 3,500 fans to a home game against Mountain West rival Eastern Washington, a number that the current Idaho men’s team doesn’t touch, averaging just more than 1,000 fans during Western Athletic Conference play.
“Seeing the stands packed, because there was only so much area at the time, was awesome,” Barnes said. “The men weren’t playing very well at the time so we had more fans than they did a lot of the year so it just gives you that extra energy.”
It all came full circle with Dobratz, now one-year retired from her job as a P.E teacher in Washington.
Though she wouldn’t be the first to be your best friend, Dobratz was down to business, and victorious as a result.
“I definitely took some of Pat’s discipline and hard work into my coaching,” said ex-Vandal forward Paula Getty, a sophomore on the ’85 team. “She did what we needed to win.”
Though they didn’t win in the tournament, the Vandals took a lot away from playing one of the nation’s high-profile teams.
Getty’s advice for the 2012-13 NCAA Tournament team: “They have to show absolutely no intimidation. They have to show respect without fear.”
Theo Lawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org