Candace Parker: 'We are not losing this game'

Candace Parker led her team in the first overtime game of the season to a 75-68 win with an eye-popping 29 point-, 17-rebound performance against Arkansas on the road Thursday in Fayetteville. She told her teammates they were not losing this game – and with some timely offense from Shannon Bobbitt and Alexis Hornbuckle – the Lady Vols kept their SEC record clear of losses with one game to go.

Candace Parker, who battled through the pain of a hip pointer suffered late in the SEC title-clinching game against LSU on Monday, struggled early, along with the rest of her team.

The Lady Vols shot 29.4 percent in the first half and trailed after 20 minutes, 25-23. The Lady Razorbacks led by seven, 43-36, with 7:40 left in the game, but Tennessee closed the gap to 43-42 with 6:30 to go with a burst of scoring, led by Shannon Bobbitt behind the arc. Arkansas still had the lead, 52-50, with 4:40 to go, but Bobbitt hit another three-pointer to put Tennessee ahead, 52-50.

But the Lady'Backs weren't done. Both teams kept finding ways to score, and Arkansas tied the game, 62-62, with a three-pointer with seconds left. Tennessee (26-2, 13-0) prevailed in overtime primarily by hitting their free throws.

Parker led Tennessee with her double-double. It was the 16th of the season and ties former Lady Vol Chamique Holdsclaw for the most by a sophomore. She now has 26 double-doubles in her career. Her 17 rebounds were a career high, surpassing the 15 she had last season against Florida.

"She said in the huddle, ‘We are not losing this game,' " Coach Pat Summitt said to Mickey Dearstone on the post-game radio show.

Parker was joined in double figures by Bobbitt, who had 15 points on the strength of three 3-pointers and who now moves into a tie with former Lady Vol Nikki Caldwell, a current assistant coach, for 10th place on the single-season list for made three pointers with 51.

Alexis Hornbuckle also was in double figures with 12 points. She added four steals and now has at least one takeaway in 64 consecutive games. She moved into ninth place for steals in a single season with 97. The steals moved her past Holly Warlick, the team's associate head coach, into eighth place on the career list with 252 steals. Her three assists moved her past Tamika Catchings into 13th place for career assists with 339.

No. 2 Tennessee needed every point to survive an upset loss against unranked Arkansas. The Lady Vols finished with 19 turnovers – Hornbuckle had eight for the game – and with 12 minutes to go in the first half had as many points as turnovers with eight. The first-half misfires – 10-34 – were the worst of the season, just under the 29.7 percent shot against Duke in the first 20 minutes. The 23 first-half points were the fewest of the season.

After the game Dearstone asked Summitt if this were a game where a coach takes the win and gets out of town.

"You could say a lot of things," said Summitt, who added that would be the safest thing to say to her.

Summitt was clearly both relieved and upset after the game. She knew a number one seed in the NCAA tourney – something she has talked about since October – could be at stake so the win keeps Tennessee atop the top seeds.

"I'm pleased that we got a win," Summitt said. "We lacked intensity. We lacked effort. … The list goes on and on."

Summitt did take the time to congratulate Arkansas Coach Susie Gardner for a great game plan. The Lady'Backs used a 2-3 zone and dared Tennessee to win from the outside. The Lady Vols struggled from the field throughout the game with Sidney Spencer going 1-9.

"Sidney Spencer has got to become a perimeter scorer," Summitt said.

In Summitt's opinion her team "didn't respect" Arkansas. That could have been true, but Tennessee also was a tired team and limped into Fayetteville with several players beat up and nursing injuries. Still, the Lady Vols started the game by giving the ball away repeatedly.

"We're a marked team. They haven't lived it for 33 years," said Summitt, in reference to her tenure at Tennessee.

Arkansas (18-11, 3-10), which was playing on Senior Night, was led by senior Dominique Washington, who replaced a freshman in the starting lineup and scored 21 points on seven three-pointers, the most by an opposing player this season and the third most in program history. Molly Goodenbour of Stanford holds the record with nine made three-pointers in 1992.

Tanisha Smith had 13 points and Lauren Ervin added 11 for the Lady'Backs.

Tennessee won the battle of the boards, 50-41. The Lady Vols also had 18 steals to the Lady'Backs 10 and forced 25 turnovers. They finished the game shooting 45.5 percent in the second half and 25 percent in overtime for an overall percentage of 36.0 percent. Arkansas shot 39.1 percent for the game.

Dearstone selected Parker as his Player of the Game and as he read off her stats she applauded when he mentioned she was 5-5 from the line. Parker had struggled from the line against LSU.

When Dearstone asked Parker about the offensive woes of her teammates Parker answered: "I'm not even going to touch that. Teams go through shooting slumps. We're winning."

It was a vintage Parker answer. Despite her having to carry the team of late she won't lash out at her teammates. In fact she will usually point out something the team did well.

"We got on the offensive boards (24), we penetrated, we dished," Parker said. " … We really leaned on each other. We're learning from a win, and that's the important thing."

Summitt did manage a wry sense of humor after the game – she noted leadership and tradition were "left on the bus" – but acknowledged that a letdown in a game like this wasn't "uncommon."

Still, it remains unacceptable to the coach.

"It concerns me, but I don't want to blow anything out of proportion," Summitt said to Dearstone. "Let's go home."

PRACTICE FACILITY: The Lady Vols' need for a practice facility has been apparent for years. This week is Exhibit A. There is not a campus spot available Friday because of other events, including a country concert and a dance marathon at the other gymnasiums. Pat Summitt will use Friday for a film session only - her players need the day off to rest their legs - and then practice Saturday.

When Thompson-Boling Arena isn't available the team has used Stokely (now in use by track) and the student recreation center, known as T-recs.

"We've had to go to T-recs three times this year," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "We were in Stokely a number of times in the first semester."

The recreation center is a gleaming structure with well-maintained courts, but it is loud and usually crowded with students on the adjoining courts.

"It's a beautiful facility," said Lockwood, who agreed coaching and teaching is difficult because of the noise level. "You know what it brought me back to? My days in Division II at Saginaw Valley. Literally it was run like a rec center. So while the men's or the women's team practiced you had runners going around the track and even scheduled walkers could come in. You had the softball team hitting softballs so it was ding of the bat, and it was just like a three-ring circus. To actually try to teach it was real difficult.

"When I was in T-recs I told our staff, I was kind of laughing, ‘This brings back memories of my Division II days,' because you really couldn't stop and talk a lot. It was so much going on in there."

The team's practice facility, Pratt Pavilion, which will be for the sole use of the women's and men's basketball teams, is scheduled to be completed in November of 2007.

"We can't get that built soon enough," Lockwood said. "Honestly, we can't get that structure up quickly enough for our liking."

The Lady Vols will close the regular season Sunday against Vanderbilt in Knoxville on Senior Day. More than 21,000 tickets have been sold. Tipoff is 1 p.m., and gates open at 11:30 a.m.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories