Parker’s WNBA revelation not distracting to UT women
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — On the day she announced that she’s leaving for the WNBA draft and Olympic play after the season, Candace Parker scored 19 points to help lead No. 3 Tennessee to an 85-58 win over Alabama on Thursday night.
The Lady Vols (24-2, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) opened fast and had a 21-point lead, 31-10 with 8:41 left in the first half.
“We came out and jumped on them,” Parker said.
Then the Crimson Tide (8-19, 1-11 SEC) went on a 17-7 run — with Parker and other Tennessee starters on the bench — to cut Tennessee’s lead to 11 points on a layup by Tierney Jenkins with 4:21 to go.
Then Tennessee sent the starters back in and led by 20 at 49-29 going into the half.
“I thought the first half we had some players come in a little over anxious offensively and not quite as committed on the defensive end, so we weren’t scoring and we were obviously giving up points,” Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt said of the bench play.
The Lady Vols stayed ahead throughout the second half, reaching their widest lead at 85-56 with 36 seconds to go in the game.
“Overall, I thought it was a good effort by our basketball team, a lot of energy. That’s been a point of emphasis,” Summitt said. “We want to close out the regular season that way. We have three games left.”
With her 19 points, Parker led the Lady Vols in scoring and also had six rebounds — in 19 minutes. Nicky Anosike and Vicki Vaugh added 12 points apiece, and Anosike also had eight rebounds. Alex Fuller added 10 points.
Alexis Hornbuckle broke the Tennessee career steals record. She came into the game four steals shy of Bridgett Gordon’s 19-year-old record of 333 and broke the record in the first half.
“I usually only get about three or four for a whole game,” Hornbuckle said. “I didn’t expect to have it in the first half.”
Jenkins was the only Tide player who scored in double figures with 12 points.
Alabama coach Stephany Smith said her team stumbled a bit in the first half but played better as the game went on.
“I thought that there were moments when we played really well, with poise and even confidence at times,” Smith said. “Then there were other times when we looked around and recognized who we might be playing and we stumbled some.”
Parker, the first woman to win a national slam dunk contest, announced earlier in the day that she will skip her final season at Tennessee for the chance to play professionally.
The redshirt junior will graduate at the end of this season and plans to participate in the Olympics and pursue a professional career, Summitt said. Parker redshirted her freshman season to recover from surgeries to repair a torn knee ligament.
Parker said she didn’t really talk to anyone before making the decision to leave Tennessee after this season.
“I didn’t really know it was that big of a deal,” she said. “I really didn’t think about it that much. I haven’t had a chance to really talk about it that much because we’ve been here and focusing on today’s game.”
Summitt said she didn’t try to talk Parker out of leaving.
“If she feels like that’s the best decision for her, then obviously I’m going to support her,” Summitt said. “For me, personally, I’m disappointed. I wanted to have a chance to coach her another year. I certainly support her in her future as a professional player and at the Olympic level.”
The Lady Vols came into Thursday’s game with a 39-2 advantage in the series, and have won 35 consecutive meetings against the Tide.
The last time Alabama beat the Lady Vols was in 1984.
Tennessee entered Thursday’s game fighting for an SEC championship, while Alabama was just trying to avoid ending up at the bottom of the conference standings for the second straight season.