Candace Parker dunks her way into record book

NORFOLK, Va. – When Pat Summitt was asked for an opening statement after Sunday's game, she mentioned ball movement, defense and shooting percentage as positives. She made a passing remark about turnovers. The writers were about ready to self-combust waiting to ask questions about Candace Parker, and it didn't take Summitt but a second to play along. In an entertaining press conference, Summitt both teased and lauded the freshman forward, but neither one forgot about the Tennessee team.

Candace Parker made NCAA Tournament and women's basketball history on Sunday when she dunked twice – once in each half, in the open floor and then in the half-court offense – in Tennessee's 102-54 first round win over Army. The first one came on a rebound and outlet pass from junior Sidney Spencer at the 13:47 mark of the first half; the second came at the 14:38 mark of the second half on a bounce pass feed from sophomore Nicky Anosike.

The first one made Parker the fourth woman, and second Lady Vol, to dunk in college – though it was the first time for a slam in the tournament. The second one transcended the women's game.

"I think I was relieved on the first one because of the defensive pressure she had going down the floor with her," Pat Summitt said. "And then on the second one I was thinking, ‘Wow, that was a statement dunk. That wasn't just an easy dunk. That was here I am and I'm putting it down.' "

The reverberations were wide-ranging. The dunks quickly became the lead story on national sportscasts. The commentary flowed in before the game was even over. The replays were shown on the scoreboard in the arena where they just happened, and the crowd oohed with every showing. The first dunk put Tennessee ahead, 15-14, and the Lady Vols went on a 22-2 run. By the time the crowd had calmed down, the score was 37-16, and Tennessee, 29-4, was well on its way to a resounding victory.

Parker tried to deflect attention away from the feats in the post-game press conference, but her teammate, Shanna Zolman, and her coach wouldn't let her.

When asked if she could sense the buzz from the crowd as she popped open in the open floor, Parker answered in a matter-of-fact tone with a stoic face.

"No, I got an outlet pass from Sid and just went up and did it," said Parker, who first dunked in high school when she was 15 years old. "It was nothing that I thought about. I've done it a few times in warmups and I've been getting things from my teammates about not dunking in games."

Zolman had to interrupt at that point.

"I think no matter when she's on a fast break people are always going to be buzzing whether she realizes it or not," Zolman said. "I was buzzing, and I was on the bench."

That brought laughter and smiles from everyone in the room. When Parker was asked if it was a relief to get it done, she answered, "It's a relief to finally do it and get it over with and be done with it."

"Then why'd you do the second one?" Summitt asked.

Parker's attempts to be serious were completely undone then. She closed her eyes and started to laugh.

"Show-off," Zolman said. "Just wondering," Summitt said. That left everyone laughing, but the writers weren't done. One noted that Parker did react on the floor, and the dunk jump-started Tennessee.

"I think our whole thing coming into this NCAA tournament is to bring energy, confidence, and a sort of swagger," Parker said. "Being who we are at Tennessee, I think we just have to bring that and just bring confidence and I think that's what dunking does. We came out and played huge in the first game, and just brought a lot of energy, and I think that brought a lot of momentum for us."

Parker motioned to the basket several times in the game – she can receive an alley-oop-style pass and lay in the ball or immediately make a touch pass to an open teammate – but she wasn't looking to slam off of one she said in response to a question.

"I can't dunk alley-oop," Parker said. "I've never done that in my life."

In the final minute of the game, Anosike got a steal at mid-court, and Parker came off the bench to cheer. She was asked if she was looking for Anosike to dunk.

"You haven't seen her 360 jam that she does?" Parker said playfully. "I was just excited, playing good defense, she got the steal. I was just getting excited for my teammate."

With that the players were dismissed to the locker room, and the reporters were free to follow them and ask more questions about the dunk. But Parker wasn't the only big story of the day for Tennessee. Sophomore point guard Alexis Hornbuckle returned to the court for the first time since she broke her wrist last month. She played 17 minutes, scored three points off free throws and was the leading rebounder with six. She had four assists to two turnovers and four steals.

When she checked in at the 14:44 mark of the first half, the Tennessee faithful among the crowd of 6,847, had its first reason to get excited.

"I thought she was terrific for the time she's been off," Summitt said. "She's been practicing but still. I didn't hesitant to put her in. I just thought we were slow and methodical and just not really into an up-tempo situation. Shanna was doing a good job, but we needed to be in the attack mode, and she put us in it right away."

Two minutes into the game, Hornbuckle was summoned to one end of the bench to talk with the assistant coaches. Two minutes later, Summitt sent her to the scorer's table.

"I tried not to smile too much actually," Hornbuckle said. "I was like, ‘Please do not look too excited.' I'm walking there trying to keep a straight face, but once the fans started clapping and cheering I just had to be me and let that smile go.

"I was excited and nervous a little bit. I didn't know how I would play because I hadn't got a chance to play another five players. We go up against our practice guys in practice, but it's still different in a game. I was overanxious to be on the court. I was definitely pleased overall. I brought the defense. I brought the energy. I was running the offense, getting teammates involved. I was happy because I was worried about passing actually. I really can't bend my wrist so it's all strength; it's all in the motion of the pass, and I was a little nervous. Now that I know I can pass I'm a little more comfortable."

Hornbuckle was the leading rebounder. Parker was the leading scorer with 26 points and a career high seven assists. Three other Tennessee players were in double figures – Zolman and senior center Tye'sha Fluker both had 15, and sophomore center Sybil Dosty had a career high with 12. All 10 players logged double-digit minutes – no starter went more than 26 minutes – and everyone scored. Redding had six points and, more importantly, three rebounds.

"I was proud for them," Summitt said of the bench's play. "I was glad to see Dom step up and do what she did. She did rebound. Now we know. Now we hold her to a different standard."

Redding said the bench knows it role in the postseason.

"Go out there and play your game and keep the team at the same level," said Redding, who believed she could have gotten at least three more boards. "If you can, go out there and play and take us to another level. You never know what's going to happen. It's March. Foul trouble, you never know. Sybil did a good job stepping in."

Dosty was called on early because Anosike got in foul trouble. The bench truly has a sparkplug now in Hornbuckle, and Summitt will stick with her big lineup because of the way it responded with the loss of Hornbuckle when she broke her right wrist Feb. 12.

"No," Summitt said dragging out the word when asked if Hornbuckle will start. "I'll bring her off the bench. Our starters have gotten us off to a great start. It's all about the team."

One of the biggest beneficiaries of Hornbuckle being back is Zolman, who can move to the wing when she's on the floor. Zolman hit five of eight three-pointers to give her 91 on the season and 254 for her career. With three more she will take over the school career record from Kara Lawson.

"She's an underrated player," Zolman said of Hornbuckle reflecting the team's tendency to talk about someone else's game.

On Saturday, Hornbuckle was cautious when talking about her comeback. She seemed concerned about what could limit her on the court. On Sunday, she had her confidence back.

"Actually I didn't feel limited at all," Hornbuckle said. "I kind of put limitations on myself mentally as far as you might not want to shoot this right-handed shot, and I noticed in the break I was kind of going left more. That's kind of to my advantage because everybody plays me right and now that left is opening up, but a little frustration. I got my shot blocked. I got the ball stolen from me on the fast break, but it happens. I've got to realize, ‘Just play my game. Don't think.' Just let it come to me. If it happens, if I realize I can't do something, at least try it first. I think as far as the next game I'm going to allow myself to think that I have no limitations."

The next game will be Tuesday evening against George Washington, which beat Old Dominion, 87-72, in the second game Sunday. The winner will head to Cleveland for regional play next weekend.

George Washington coach Joe McKeown came into the Ted Constant Convocation Center just in time to see Parker's second dunk.

"I happened to walk in the gym and saw her make the baseline dunk, and that just seemed like a layup that she actually dunked," McKeown said. "That scared me a little bit. That was scary. She's obviously lived up to all her billing. I think Pat and her staff have done a very good job of letting her play to her strengths."

The dunk had been a topic of conversation since Parker won the slam dunk contest against male players at the McDonald's All-American game in 2004. But she sat out last season to recover from knee surgery – when Parker arrived at Tennessee, Jenny Moshak, the school's chief of sports medicine, shut her down after she got on campus because of knee swelling – and the talk was shelved for awhile. It started again in preseason and kept up steadily as the 2005-06 season progressed. Parker attempted a dunk at home against Auburn on Feb. 23 but took off too soon and missed long.

Prior to Sunday, three women had dunked in college: Georgeann Wells of West Virginia, who did it twice in the 1984-85 season; Charlotte Smith of North Carolina, once in 1994; and Michelle Snow of Tennessee, who dunked twice in the 2000-01 season and once in the 2001-02 season.

"It was nice to get it out of the way since she's tried it before against Auburn at home, and she missed," Summitt said. "The fans talked about it all the time, and she wanted to do it for the Tennessee fans at home because they are always asking: ‘When are you going to dunk?' When she did that baseline dunk today, it took me back to our first practice when we were running basic baseline drills, and I was at the other end of the court. Candace got the drop pass, and dunked it much like she did today. I've been in this business for 32 years, and I said to myself, ‘I can't believe I saw what I just saw.' I didn't think I'd be impressed when it happened, but I was. I told her at the end of the game today, I said to her, ‘Well you got us on SportsCenter again; good job.' And she smiled."

Summitt said she had no idea that Parker would do it Sunday, but it didn't take long to realize she intended to dunk when she broke down court.

"I think it inspired the team so much," Summitt said. "I had no anticipation of that coming. (But when she broke free), you could feel it in the gym. You could feel the excitement in the arena."

The second dunk took Summitt by complete surprise.

"It did. When she came across the baseline I saw how aggressive she was going," Summitt said. "I was looking to see where the defense was. She put that one down."

Summitt can be forgiven if she gets nervous. An Army defender, sophomore guard Margaree King, was step for step with Parker on the first dunk and made a swipe at the ball before running past her out of bounds. On the second one Parker blew past her defender. Summitt spent the last postseason with Parker and three other players on the bench recovering from knee surgeries – three arrived at Tennessee with knees in bad shape and the fourth tore an ACL late in the season – and is understandably jumpy when it comes to losing players to injury.

"She dunks all the time in practice. She dunks in warmups," Summitt said. "I have just told her, ‘Be smart. It only counts two points so make sure that you don't have any potential for someone undercutting you.' "

Summitt was standing in one part of the locker room talking to a cluster of writers. Parker was sitting nearby still surrounded by television cameras and reporters. Moshak made her way through the throng to place an ice bag on Parker's left knee as a standard precaution.

Parker and Summitt were asked about Moshak's contributions in getting both Parker and Hornbuckle back to the court.

"Jenny Moshak was huge in every aspect of my recovery mentally and physically," Parker said. "She's been there for me, and she's the greatest trainer ever. I really feel blessed that I came to Tennessee, not only the coaching staff and the fans, but Jenny Moshak. She has been huge. She's always been by my side, and I love her to death."

With that Moshak stood up and kissed Parker on the top of the head.

"Those are my national championships," Moshak said of the players returning to the floor. "The hard work that goes in, the long hours, that's the reward, and to see them be able to excel is just that much better. The victory is obviously very sweet. For me to have a part in that makes me feel like I'm a part of the team, and that's all worth it."

"I can't say enough about Jenny Moshak," Summitt said. "She's one of the most important members of my staff without question, because without her there's been a lot of times when kids would not be back on the floor as soon as they have been. She's great with rehab. She won't compromise. I don't want anyone with me who's going to compromise when it comes to a health issue or an injury. She sticks to her guns, ‘You're going to get better, because you're going to do rehab over and over and over.' "

Hornbuckle was the most-recent success story. A little more than a month after she broke her wrist, she was back in uniform.

"I didn't really feel inhibited," Hornbuckle said. "I was passing. I was able to get to the basket. I think I kind of psyched myself out as far as getting to the basket and taking a shot instead of just going up and seeing what I could with it. From the free throw line I was actually a little nervous but three of four, I'll take it."

When it was noted that that was a better percentage than when she had two good hands, Hornbuckle said, "Hey, that's what coach said. I just had to smile a little bit. I think I handled my job on the defensive end and rebounds. That's my game. I generate every type of emotion from my defense, and I made a point to do that today. Not to mention I was overexcited to be out there so I wanted to be everywhere on the court."

Summitt saw enough Sunday to know that Hornbuckle can still handle the ball and run the offense. She's not worried about future opponents who will likely bring a lot more pressure.

"Her handles are great," Summitt said. "They may want to trap her; they may play off of her, put two people on Zolman and make her make plays. The thing is she (Hornbuckle) doesn't have to settle for outside shots. She went to the paint. I told her keep going to the paint because you can get in there and score or you can get other people shots. She did.

"It took some pressure off of Shanna so she wasn't having to think for everyone, run the offense, just give her a little more freedom. Also, Lex does a great job of finding her (Zolman). So does Candace. The whole team looks for her. Our ball movement is a lot better when Lex is in there, because she brings that kind of energy and gets us into things a lot quicker. And that's what we needed."

Zolman also didn't anticipate trouble down the road.

"I think teams may have a lot more athletic guards, but as a team we've practiced so much on press breaks, on press releases, just having her in addition to it I don't perceive a whole lot of trouble with that," Zolman said.

Army was game for about 10 minutes. The Black Knights were within eight points, and then Tennessee just poured it on. The 50 points were the most scored in a half this season, and UT led at the break, 50-26.

"Having Lex back is really important because she brings a lot of dimensions that we didn't have," Spencer said. "She pushes the ball very well. She played so aggressive today. She wasn't tentative at all. She rebounds the ball really well. She's a great defender. That just adds something more that this team could use so I'm just really glad she's back. The fact that everyone thought – we were hoping for the best – we weren't sure if she was going to come back, so to have her back is really great."

Army was led by guard Cara Enright, who had 21 points. The next highest scorer was guard Alex McGuire with eight points. Tennessee dominated the boards, 40-21, and had 52 points in the paint compared to 28 for Army. The Lady Vols also had 15 steals and tallied 36 points off 25 Army turnovers. Tennessee had 16 turnovers.

"I was really very pleased with how we came out today as a team," Summitt said in that understated opening remark. "I thought our starters demonstrated great commitment in terms of their defensive intensity and obviously we had good player movement, ball movement, shot the ball well. When you shoot the ball 60 percent for a game, obviously it's hard to be disappointed with the offense. You always look at turnovers but for the first game in the NCAA, very, very pleased with how we started and where we are."

Summitt had nothing but kind words for Army and its coach, Maggie Dixon.

"I thought they came out with discipline on the court," Summitt said. "These young ladies understand discipline, and at the same time, I was pleased that we managed to make some adjustments because they were getting good open looks against us. There is no question they are very well coached. … There's coaching in her blood with her brother, and when you have it in your family I know the feeling that you just talk basketball. You love the game and you love to teach the game, which she does very well."

"I just want to start by saying, that I've never been so proud of a group of young women, as I was in the last four months," Dixon said. "They have been through so much and really just kept fighting back. I'm so honored and proud to have the opportunity to coach these young women, and I'm looking forward to the future of Army basketball."

Army, 20-11, won the Patriot League championship and made its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tourney.

"This isn't the way we want to end the season," said Dixon, a former assistant at DePaul, who recruited Parker and gave her a big hug after the game. "They have accomplished too much to feel bad about this season. I think the first thing we need is to take a deep breath, and enjoy the fact that we got to be here and play on this stage against a team like Tennessee who I think is going to do very well this year. Our players are going to remember this, and we can use it for motivation next year."

Sophomore forward Stefanie Stone often drew the assignment of trying to guard Parker, but Army had no way to really stop her once she got on the low block or got open for a short fade-away in the lane or on the baseline.

"She is a really great player, very tough, definitely knows the right moves to make at the right times," Stone said. "It was definitely a big challenge to guard her. She is just one of those players that I will give to her the respect she deserves."

Enright acknowledged that the dunks were well worth watching, but the Army players had to focus on the game.

"She can dunk and that's pretty impressive," Enright said. "But you can't sit, watch, and be in awe of it. You can sit back after the game, and say, ‘Wow she really did dunk on us,' but during the game you just have to brush it off."

Dixon noted that it was Zolman who did just as much damage with her long-range shots.

"Obviously Candace Parker is going to be Candace Parker, but the things that really hurt you is Zolman hitting three-pointers in transition," Dixon said. "We got lost in transition a couple of times, and they got some baskets out of that. I think that's how the run really got away from us."

It's at least a reminder to opponents that Tennessee has a lot of weapons. Zolman hit four of her three-pointers in the first half after both the dunk and Hornbuckle's entrance into the game.

But Tennessee also had some lapses in the game, particularly on two Army possessions in the second half when nobody was back on defense.

"Transition defense with our bench was not solid, but Lindsey (Moss) was not feeling 100 percent," Summitt said. "But you take it. If this was the beginning of the year I'd be disappointed in a lot of the breakdowns, but we're in postseason, and you've got to win and then you've got to move on. We can talk about how we've got to get better in certain aspects, but we can't dwell on the past. We've got to ready for what's going to happen on Tuesday. We're going to play against (one of) two that we've played, but there's a marked improvement in both these teams."

At the time Tennessee was still awaiting the winner of the second game. Now, George Washington will attempt to stop Tennessee next, and McKeown was pleased to see his team shake off a recent offensive slump by putting six players in double figures in the win over ODU. Sophomore guard Sarah-Jo Lawrence, the team's sixth woman, led all scorers with 20 points.

"That would be an intra-squad game normally," McKeown said. "That's a fantasy for me."

The Colonials had a balanced attack Sunday with the points coming in the paint and from the perimeter.

"The difference on Tuesday will be Tennessee can obviously throw a big lineup out there with Fluker, Anosike," McKeown said. "Old Dominion, we had a pretty big size advantage most of the game so we were able to get the ball inside. We're going to have to do the same thing, but it's going to be contested a little bit differently inside than it was tonight. That being said I was really proud, and we're young. It's a good time to start playing well."

Tennessee and George Washington played once this season on Dec. 7, and the Lady Vols – coming off a long road trip that took them from the Virgin Islands to a coast-to-coast jaunt from Stanford to Washington, D.C. – got the win 59-43.

Since then the Colonials have improved their play, and Tennessee has changed its lineup. Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood was the point guard in that December game. She left the team two weeks later to transfer to Maryland. After Hornbuckle got hurt, Summitt moved Fluker into the starting lineup and went big.

"I'm hoping Gatewood shows up, and they put her in the game," McKeown quipped. "Maybe that will disrupt them a little bit."

The game was a defensive tussle, and Tennessee had a slim lead at halftime, 34-29.

"I thought when we played them in early December, it was a great game for about 35, 34 minutes and we did a great game defensively on them," McKeown said. "They did the same thing to us second half; we just couldn't score. We're going to have to find ways to score. That's going to be the biggest challenge. I thought Pat did a great job when you look about midseason when they had some injuries and changed lineups getting them to end the season. She got everybody playing together. Hornbuckle went out; it seemed like they didn't miss a beat. When they beat LSU – I watched that game – I was like, ‘Wow.' They're playing with a lot of confidence. They seem to be playing together."

McKeown isn't at all sure why his team is facing Tennessee in the second round.

"I just wish we were playing them about two rounds from now," McKeown said. "Because they're really a one seed. You can call them whatever you want, but that's really what they are. We had a great (NCAA) run the '90s. We were in the Sweet 16, final eight. What amazes me about Pat is that they are there every year. I have tremendous respect for her. I've seen them in so many different situations where they lost a tough game, where they won a big game, and she just handles it with class. I think she's good for the game."

The two teams have only played six times – Tennessee has won every matchup – but McKeown and Summitt have become good friends.

"I noticed Tennessee had a lot of fans here today, a lot of orange," said McKeown, who hoped the ODU fans would cheer for his team Tuesday. "Tennessee's got enough fans. Pat's got enough rings. They don't need any help. It'll be a great game. It's going to be a lot of fun."

After all the buzz created by Sunday's game, a lot of people will be wondering if Parker will dunk again. But she's not going to get caught up in the hype or feel any pressure.

"I'm just going to approach the games like I've normally done it," Parker said. "I'm not going to force anything, not going to force the issue. If it's a close game, no way, I'm going to make the best decision for the team. I just think that it brought energy, and I'm not pressured to do it again."

Still, the dunks made history.

"All the women's dunks that I've seen have come in transition or fast breaks or something like that," Parker said. "I wanted to try to dunk in the half court. I just went up and luckily it went down."

"I think the first one was good because we kind of started off sluggish, and it kind of got us on a roll," Spencer said. "Everyone was going crazy. I know I was going crazy. I was looking around at everybody on the court, and it was an emotional high. The second one was amazing because it was the half-court game. She wasn't on a breakaway. She just needed like two steps and she got up. That really was awesome because a lot of people were thinking, ‘She needs a breakaway layup. We're not going to give her that.' "

"I think she just rewrote the women's game," Moshak said. "She really did."

ODDS AND ENDS

BEST QUOTE: Shanna Zolman on playing Army.

"We knew coming into the game that it was going to be hard fought in the sense that they are competitors, that they work hard for everything they get. They fight not only in terms of on the court but obviously for our country. When I was looking up at the beginning of the game and saw their band coming in and they've got their Army gear on, and a lot of their fans had their Army gear on, this game was a lot more than a game of basketball and starting off the NCAA Tournament. Our opponents not only play basketball, but more importantly, they are fighting for our country and they're serving our country. We were talking a lot about what it means for them, as members of the Army, what all they have to go through, and we knew that they were going to be in shape, we knew that they would be well-conditioned athletes just because of being in the Army and going through boot camp. It was definitely an honor I think being able to play against them, because they are serving our country for a much more important purpose."

BEST SIDVILLE MOMENT: Sidney Spencer. When told that everyone was talking about the dunk but not the rebound and the pass (both by Spencer) to set it up, a genuinely perplexed Spencer couldn't remember the pass. "Was it? Is that why I was at half court?" Yes. Spencer blocked a shot, grabbed the ball, fired an outlet pass, trailed the play and erupted in celebration at center court by swirling in a circle with arms outstretched.

BEST DUNK NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT: Tye'sha Fluker's in warmups. She went in from the left and slammed one-handed.

"For Dom I always do a finger roll in warmups," Fluker said. "She's always like, ‘Just dunk it, Tye' so I just dunked it. You will never see Tye Fluker dunk in a game. Don't worry about it. It was all in fun and games for my teammates to get us up with energy. Candace came up behind me and made it look too easy, though. I was really trying, and she make it look very easy. She got the win on that."

BEST FUTURE PARKER DUNK DEFENSE: George Washington coach Joe McKeown. "If she dunks on us I'm going to call timeout and try to put some glue on her shoes or something," he said.

BEST SIGN: "Welcome back Lex." It was held up when she entered the game, went to the free throw line or got near the baseline – where the sign holder was seated nearby – during stoppages in play.

SECOND BEST SIGN: "#2?!"

MOST CONFUSED FANS: A small cluster cheering for Army who booed when the Tennessee players took the court but applauded when Pat Summitt came out on the floor. Most left before the game ended.

MOST CONFUSED OVERALL: During the introduction of the starters, the announcer referred to Nicky Anosike as "guard Alex Fuller."

BEST OOPS: The scout seats for opposing coaches. The seats were designated for an area behind the team benches so the scouts could have listened in on timeouts and other strategy. The coaches took upon themselves to find other seats opposite the benches, and the placement was changed between games.

ANOTHER OOPS: The ODU cheerleaders. During the second game the cheerleaders were at mid-court in mid-routine when the horn sounded with ODU ready to in-bound the ball. The cheerleaders scampered off the court, but the matter appeared to have been caused by confusion between the scorer's table and the officials.

BEST OLD STYLE: George Washington's Jessica Simmonds. In an era of long and baggy shorts, the 6'2 senior forward wears her shorts about eight inches above the knee.

BUSIEST SPECTATOR: Candace Parker. She came out between games to sit with her teammates and family members but kept picking up a cell phone to take calls. At one point she had two phones in her hands. Once spectators realized she was in the stands, they flocked for autographs, even though the other game had started. She signed a few and then had to leave with the team.


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