Lady Vols win SEC regular season title

Tennessee won the SEC regular season championship outright Monday with a 56-51 win over LSU. Candace Parker led all scorers with 27 points, and Dominique Redding contributed with some crucial offense off the bench to secure the win in Baton Rouge. Tennessee is now 12-0 in conference play with two games left to play.

"We came out with a mission," Candace Parker said to ESPN2 after the game. "I'm really proud of us. We have a chance to run the table in the SEC."

Parker is a big reason why. She finished with a double-double – 27 points and 13 rebounds, 11 of which came on the defensive end. She also had two assists, two steals and two blocks and played 37 minutes.

"We knew going into this game that we haven't won a regular season title," Parker said. "That has been a big goal of ours. We've won the tournament championship the last two years, but we've lacked the regular season. That has been a goal of ours, and now we have accomplished that. Now, we want to run the table."

Parker was joined in double figures by Shannon Bobbitt, who scored 13 and hit three of Tennessee's five three-pointers.

The two other three-pointers came from Dominique Redding, who finished with eight points.

Her offense was critical. The Lady Vols shot 31.3 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from behind the arc. Alexis Hornbuckle and Sidney Spencer combined for 3-22 shooting. But they both hit the boards. Hornbuckle had four rebounds with three on defense, and Spencer had nine, seven of which came on the offensive end.

"Our philosophy was if you can't grab it, tip it," Parker said. "We tipped the ball to different teammates. We got second-chance points. It was just a team effort."

No. 2/3 Tennessee (25-2, 12-0) won the game with board play – a 44-36 edge on the glass – defense and taking care of the ball. The Lady Vols had 12 turnovers with Parker and Spencer combining for eight. The point guards, Bobbitt and Cait McMahan, combined for four assists and zero turnovers.

Hornbuckle did manage four points with none bigger than the left-handed driving layup to put Tennessee up 51-49 as the shot clock expired with 1:39 left in the game. She also had four assists, one block and five steals, which runs her streak to 63 consecutive games with at least one takeaway. She has 93 steals for the season, bettering her mark of 91 last year.

Tennessee led 30-22 at halftime and then held on in the second half after LSU tied the score, 42-42, with 8:50 left. The game featured two of the conference's best defensive teams and lived up to its pre-game billing of being a showdown for SEC supremacy. Tennessee had won four straight SEC regular season titles and then LSU took the next two. With Tennessee clinching the 2007 title Monday, the two programs account for the last seven championships.

"It's big because it is a chance for us to win this league," Summitt said. "It's also a chance for us to keep ourselves in a position for a number one seed if we win these next two games. This team has proven themselves in so many big games.

"I think we have to not have a letdown and finish out with Arkansas and Vanderbilt. If we do that and going into the SEC (Tournament), this team definitely deserves a number one seed (in the NCAA tourney). Hopefully, we can play well for the tournament. What they've done this season is a testimony to their character and their toughness and just their ability to close out games."

It's also a testament to perseverance. Redding has been in and out of Summitt's doghouse for four years because of what Summitt expects day in and day out in practice and games. But Redding doesn't publicly complain and still earns praise from Summitt for being a good teammate and always cheering from the bench.

On Monday, with Tennessee struggling to get any points from anyone but Parker, Summitt put Redding in the game and told her this was her chance to show what she could do. Redding responded by hitting 3-5 from the field for eight points and zero turnovers in eight minutes of play and was picked as Mickey Dearstone's Player of the Game.

"I was sitting over there waiting for a chance to go in," said Redding, who added that Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell told her to stay ready.

Redding told Dearstone that the team noticed how tight the rims were in the morning shoot-around at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

"The rims don't give you anything," Redding said. "You've got to make it in there or bank it in there. I like these rims."

Summitt told Dearstone that she opted for Redding over Alberta Auguste at that point in the game because the team needed an outside scoring threat. With Tennessee in its matchup zone defense Summitt felt like Redding could handle that end of the floor, too. Had Tennessee needed to return to a man look, Summitt would have gone to Auguste. So with offense in short supply Summitt summoned Redding.

"I've watched her for four years, and I know she can knock down big shots in big games," Summitt said.

No. 7 LSU (23-5, 9-3) was having its own offensive issues. The Lady Tigers got 18 points from Sylvia Fowles, who also had 16 rebounds, but no other player was in double figures. LSU shot 40.4 percent for the game and 33.3 percent behind the arc.

It's a testament to Fowles that Tennessee actually did a decent job defensively, and she still put up those numbers.

"She's a great player," Summitt said.

Fowles felt the same way about Parker, who blocked one of Fowles' shots by pinning it off the glass. Fowles went back down the floor smiling and shaking her head.

"She is a great player," Fowles said. "She is like a three-in-one. She can post someone up, take them off the block or drive to the basket. She was very impressive tonight."

Quianna Chaney had nine points and nearly hit a long three to tie the game with seconds left. Bobbitt had just hit two free throws to push the lead to 54-51. Fowles rebounded the Chaney miss but then missed a putback, and Tennessee grabbed the board. Auguste hit two free throws for the final margin, 56-51.

"To tell you the truth, that is something I have always dreamed about – to have a chance to take a last-second shot like that. When it left my hand, I knew it was going in. But when I opened my eyes and saw that it rimmed out, it was hard to take."

LSU's five losses have come by one-, two-, three-, four- and now five-point margins.

It was the first win for Tennessee in Baton Rouge since 2003 and the first regular season title since seniors Spencer and Redding were freshmen. When LSU won last season in Knoxville it was the first loss for Tennessee at home in conference play in 64 games, a streak that dated back to 1996. Monday's win in Baton Rouge snapped LSU's 21-game home winning streak in conference play.

"Obviously, I am very proud for this basketball team," Summitt said. "I thought they hung really tough when things didn't always go our way. We played through some tough possessions. Spencer didn't shoot the ball well. She's 1-for-12, and we still manage to score. I thought Candace on the inside was huge just establishing the post-up game and being aggressive to the basket. We came up with key rebounds down the stretch.

"Obviously this LSU team is very, very strong both perimeter and post game. We knew it would be a great challenge, and we met that challenge. I am just really proud of this team. They worked really hard to put themselves in this position. We've had a lot of tough road games, and I think the fact that we've had the close games we've had and played the schedule we've had prepared us for not going into panic mode late in the game."

Summitt had been pleading with her players to get on the boards and had predicted that in a close game it would be the difference in the outcome. It was in this game.

Tennessee got 13 second-chance points to LSU's three. Of the Lady Vols' 44 rebounds as a team, 20 came on offense. The Lady Tigers got 36 boards, but only seven came on offense.

"You could start there," LSU coach Pokey Chatman said. "We broke it down a little bit more in the locker room at halftime, but that is a great place to start because it is something that we were emphasizing coming off the Arkansas game, our ability to secure rebounds.

"Obviously, traditionally Tennessee is a really good rebounding team and there are no defensive second-chance points. You work so hard to force a shot, get a body on somebody, grab the rebound and block out. We gave up two offensive boards when the game dictates that we are in position to have an advantage and one cost us a three. You cannot have those type efforts and expect to be in the ball game with Tennessee."

Tennessee will take off Tuesday and then leave Wednesday for Fayetteville for Thursday evening's game with Arkansas. The regular season ends Sunday in Knoxville against Vanderbilt for "Senior Day." More than 20,000 tickets have been sold for the 1 p.m. Sunday game. Spencer and Redding will say their final goodbyes to the fans at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Before she left for Baton Rouge, McMahan was asked how a win Monday would set the tone for the final week of the regular season.

"I think if we take care of business down in Louisiana that will play out in what we do in Arkansas," McMahan said. "If we go down to LSU and mess around, it's going to be a hard week. If we can go down there, play and have fun, we can come back and do what we do."

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