Candace Parker leads Lady Vols past Stanford

Forward Candace Parker put on her own show Friday evening against Stanford – she scored, rebounded, dunked and hit a three-pointer for good measure – but after the game she wanted to talk about the team's energy and emotion. It all added up to a 77-60 win and a three-game sweep of the Pac-10 for Tennessee.

"I think without a doubt this may have been Candace's best all-around game – her support defensively, running the floor, certainly making face-up shots, back-to-the-basket plays, getting other people involved," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "She had a lot of what I call valuable spurts throughout the game. It was like we would go through two or three possession and it was like Candace would take over for two or three possessions. You credit this team. Candace was working hard and they recognized (that) fact when we needed to score. I thought we did a good job of getting the ball inside to her."

Candace Parker led all scorers with 25 points and nine rebounds. Forward Sidney Spencer added 10 points to join her in double figures. Stanford was led by Jayne Appel with a career high 23 points and guard Candice Wiggins with 18.

No. 4 Tennessee, 4-0, won its 11th straight game against No. 11 Stanford, 2-2, and did it with defense when the shots weren't falling in the first half. The Lady Vols also had to persevere through the foul trouble of guards Alexis Hornbuckle and Shannon Bobbitt, who both spent considerable stretches of the first half on the bench. That's when Parker took over.

Her dunk in the first half on a steal near the top of the key elicited a thunderous reaction from the crowd of 13,352 at Thompson-Boling Arena. By halftime Parker had 13 points, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

"We knew coming in to this game that Stanford was going to try to come in here and beat us," Parker said. "So we just all got each other hyped up, and I was really happy because we fed off each other's energy and we fed off the defense. I knew that with Lex getting in foul trouble and Shannon getting in foul trouble in the first half – had to step up."

Point guard Cait McMahan, a freshman from nearby Maryville, Tennessee, had to take over the point position early in the first half – she also started the second half – and played her best game as a Lady Vol. The stat sheet for McMahan – four points, two steals and two assists – didn't reflect the composure with which she ran the offense.

"I thought Cait did a great job," Summitt said. "Really in both halves she seemed very alert, really up-tempo. I thought in the second half she got us off to a great start and got other people involved. Just her aggressiveness – she was much more aggressive defensively in this game than she has been. I think offensively really forced this team to run. She made a lot of good decisions for us offensively."

Tennessee needed its defense, especially during a period of offensive sluggishness in the first half. The lead at halftime was 35-28 – and Wiggins sliced it by three with a heave from about 60 feet out that swished through the net with the clock at zero – with the Lady Vols shooting 41.9 percent.

"I think defensively we did some good things to make up for maybe our lack of successful offensive execution," Summitt said. "Over a time I thought we had a little bit of an edge just because of what we were generating off our defense. That kept us at least at a position that we thought we could maintain a bit of a lead before halftime. That was important for us to go in at halftime and feel much better about our defense and get some momentum."

Tennessee also addressed its rebounding at halftime with both teams at 18 boards apiece at the break. The Lady Vols owned the boards in the second half and finished with a 37-26 edge.

"We talked about it at halftime," Summitt said. "I think this team could be much better than they are in that aspect of the game. We have to have players that just pursue the ball on the offensive glass and really pursue it defensively. We have been inconsistent in that area."

It must have been quite a talk.

"At halftime, we became very motivated to rebound in the second half," Spencer said to much laughter in the post-game press conference. "That became a major focus for us just to finally out-rebound a team because that's something that we've struggled with thus far. We discussed it in the locker room and came out with more energy."

Energy was the buzzword for the evening. Even Wiggins mentioned its effect.

"They've got the crowd behind him, and they really play with a lot of energy," Wiggins said. "I think they're more aggressive. Last year at Stanford, they were less physical. I think they do get a lot of energy from the crowd."

Tennessee used that energy to keep pressure on the Cardinal. The Lady Vols had 13 steals but a more impressive stat was the nine blocks. Parker had five, Nicky Anosike sent three back, and forward Dominique Redding had one. In the first half Parker rejected a Stanford attempt into the cheerleaders deep on the baseline in what resembled a volleyball spike more than a blocked shot.

"I get excited," Hornbuckle said. "It depends on how they block the shot. They didn't just block the shot. She sent one out of bounds. You just don't do that. That's great. It gets me hyped. I love when the defensive energy is up – I'm a defensive player – and when I'm excited on defense it's like everything else just falls into place."

Stanford beat Tennessee in some important statistical categories such as bench points (36-19); points off turnovers (23-16); and points in the paint (38-32). Both teams had 18 turnovers and Tennessee had just one more steal, 13-12. But the Lady Vols shot well in the second half – they finished the game at 50.0 percent and have now shot at 50 percent or better in every game this season – and hit their free throws (18-19). They also didn't let up defensively.

"We've had a heated rivalry with them over the past few games and it's always gone down to the wire, and we didn't want that to happen this year," Parker said. "We just came in with a different mindset. I really think that defense is everything for us this year, and we're just building off of that."

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer acknowledged Tennessee's defense in the post-game press conference.

"I thought our team struggled with the Tennessee pressure," VanDerveer said. "I thought Tennessee played really well defensively. … Defensively, I don't think we did as well as we wanted to. I think that it's so early (in the season), this is a great opportunity for our team to see the type of intensity that's out there. Tennessee is going to have a great year, and we also want to have a great year."

Tennessee keyed on two of Stanford's post players – forward Brooke Smith and center Kristen Newlin – and essentially shut them down offensively. Smith had four points and Newlin, who scored 20 last season against UT, had two. But Appel, a freshman center was 10-17 from the field – she did miss five of eight free throws – and basically had her way in the paint.

Summitt implied that Appel occupied the paint area for considerable periods of time, and there were times a three-second call (and then some) could have been made.

"I think she did a great job of getting in the paint and staying in the paint," Summitt said with a smile.

But she also acknowledged the effectiveness of Stanford's high-low game.

"It's not like they run a lot of different looks offensively," Summitt said. "You know what they're going to do but then you've got to try and stop it. It's difficult because of their spacing. They're very skilled players. They pass the ball well. They spread you out. That's the reason they got as many high-low looks.

"We buried our defense. We fronted some. We played behind. We played on the high shoulder. They're just well drilled and obviously they've got good skills. That was a challenge for us, but we wanted to vary and mix up what we were trying to do and try to keep them a little bit off balance. Just looking at the turnovers we did get some opportunities to disrupt what they were trying to do."

Parker said, "I think honestly we focused so much on Brooke Smith and Newlin and we did a good job against them, but then she (Appel) came in and played great. We fronted at the beginning and we played behind, and we allowed too many easy buckets. That's something that we will definitely go back and build on, but I'm just happy to build on it with a win."

Appel was making her first appearance on the road for Stanford and she said the experience "was definitely a little nerve-wracking coming in as a freshman first travel game at Tennessee, but my teammates (got the ball inside) and they were doubling Candice and Brooke and someone else had to step up."

Appel stepped up big. She also had five boards and five blocks plus two steals and an assist. Another freshman, guard Melanie Murphy, also played some effective minutes, and was able to feed the ball to Appel.

"Jayne was one-on-one basically every time she got the ball," VanDerveer said. "She has really good moves close to the basket. Most of the time I thought she got herself in good position, and people got her the ball. Melanie Murphy had five assists; I think they were all five to Jayne. Brooke Smith had four assists, probably four of them to Jayne. People look for Jayne; she's gives a big target. I thought Jayne played real confidently. She blocked shots; she has really good timing. Again, I think our freshmen really stepped up big."

VanDerveer noted Wiggins had "kind of a quiet game," although she did hit four three-pointers, including the one launched from the last ‘t' on "The Summitt" logo on the court well beyond center court, and had three steals. She also had four fouls and four turnovers.

"I think Candice has been pressing a lot, not just in this game but in other games," VanDerveer said. "She just needs to really kind of relax and play. She does great things for our team. But I think she maybe just put a little pressure on herself, and she just needs to come out and play."

VanDerveer didn't think her team felt the pressure of the losing streak to Tennessee, which now stands at 11 games with the Lady Vols leading the series, 19-4.

"I don't think so," she said. "Tennessee has a great team; they have a great program. We could stop the losing streak if we didn't want to schedule them. I think it's November – we've played them tough; we didn't play them as tough as we wanted to this time – but I think it helps us in the long run.

"And for us I think it is a win-win whether we win the game or not. We wouldn't schedule them unless we felt that. I think this is a great college atmosphere and to play basketball here is something that our team looks forward to. Of course we'd like to win, but they played better than we did. We have to learn from it and improve."

Tennessee went into the game looking to improve on its free throw shooting. After starting out well this season the Lady Vols were an abysmal 12-21 (57.1 percent) in the 83-74 win over Arizona State.

"After Arizona State, I just told them that they would individually run if they didn't make free throws," Summitt said. "We're a great free throw shooting team, and it's lack of concentration. They have to be able to make them on the road and at home. They got in and took extra shots. You put a little pressure on them, and it's good for them to have to go to the line and know not only do I want to make them for my team I want to make them for myself. I don't want to have to run. Consequences."

The individual standard was 75 percent or above from the stripe.

"The running drills, a little threat in there, and, you know, you're going to make baskets at the free throw line," Hornbuckle said with a smile. "She incorporated a new rule that individually you have to be 75 percent or above from the line so nobody wants to be the one running by ourselves in practice, don't want to mess up, so we concentrated a lot.

"It's easy to knock them down in practice. There's no pressure. In the games you just have to get focused no matter what the crowd, no matter what kind of game you're having. You don't want to go to practice the next day and run. It's great motivation if you ask me."

Hornbuckle, who was 4-4 from the line, said Summitt didn't specifically mention running as punishment for poor free throw shooting.

"She said you're going to pay," said a smiling Hornbuckle and the team figured that meant sprints. Then Hornbuckle looked serious and told the assembled media, "Don't quote me," and then broke into a wide grin. "I'm just playing."

"I missed the only free throw," Parker said, glancing at the stat sheet. "It's OK; it happens," Hornbuckle said with exaggerated empathy.

The players were pleased with this performance, but they have little time to enjoy it. Middle Tennessee, 3-2, will be in town for a Sunday afternoon game at the arena. The Blue Raiders played Maryland, the defending national champion, down to the wire before falling to start the season and on Friday beat Chattanooga, 98-69, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Lady Vols beat Chattanooga, 102-72, to open the season.

In Friday's game, Chrissy Givens had 29 points, Amber Holt scored 26 with 10 rebounds and freshman Jackie Pickel hit five 3-pointers to lead Middle Tennessee.

The Lady Vols will practice Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at the arena but will hold a short session to save their legs. Summitt will find some time to watch the Stanford game tape and scouting film on Middle Tennessee before practice convenes.

"We're going to go very light," Summitt said. "I want this team to have some recovery time. We'll probably only do our scouting report defense on the court and go for an hour and get ready to play on Sunday."

ODDS AND ENDS: Alexis Hornbuckle's four steals extended her streak of consecutive games with at least one takeaway to 40. … Sidney Spencer has scored in double figures in all four games this season. She scored 10 against Stanford and Arizona State and 15 against UCLA in the three wins over Pac-10 teams … Candace Parker has now surpassed 700 points for her career. Her five blocks gave her 93 for her career and moved her past Tiffani Johnson (89) and Cindy Noble (91) into 10th place in the Lady Vol record books. The next three spots are held by Daedra Charles (97), Vonda Ward (98) and Abby Conklin (102). The record holder is Sheila Frost with 251.

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