Lady Vols come back to defeat MSU

The Lady Vols kept their SEC win record intact with an 87-69 win Thursday over Mississippi State, but took a beating in the injury column as three players – including All-American Candace Parker – left the game after getting hurt. The early diagnoses are encouraging for the trio, and Tennessee will now turn its attention to a rematch with Rutgers.

No. 2 Tennessee (21-1, 8-0) will return this afternoon to the practice court to get ready for Monday's showdown with the Scarlet Knights in a rematch of the national title game last April. The Lady Vols could be down to six players at practice with the injuries sustained by Candace Parker, Alberta Auguste and Angie Bjorklund.

Parker, a junior forward, went down late in the second half after hyper-extending her left knee under the basket. The knee is the same one that she had surgically repaired as a freshman. She needed help to leave the court, but the initial examination by the team physician for Mississippi State and Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine for the Lady Vols, determined that the knee was structurally sound.

"Right now we're really optimistic, and Candace is in good spirits," Coach Pat Summitt said on her post-game radio show with Mickey Dearstone.

Bjorklund, a freshman guard, took a blow to the face in the second half – the collision necessitated that blood be cleaned up from the floor – and may have broken her nose. She will undergo an X-ray for a definitive diagnosis.

Auguste, senior wing, re-injured her left biceps muscle. She hurt the muscle in practice a week ago after being hit underneath her arm. When she went out, Bjorklund had to replace her late in the game.

All three players are officially listed as day-to-day.

"We'll practice tomorrow for those healthy enough to practice," Summitt said Thursday night.

The Lady Vols left by charter flight after the game. Senior point guard Shannon Bobbitt arrived the day of the game with Athletics Director Joan Cronan because Bobbitt had a test in her major, psychology, on Thursday that she could not miss.

The travel didn't seem to hinder the point guard. Bobbitt had 16 points and four assists and tied a career-high with seven rebounds. She was Dearstone's player of the game.

"I tried to come out and bring the energy," Bobbitt said.

Four other players were in double figures for Tennessee. Alexis Hornbuckle also had 16 points, Parker added 11 points, and Nicky Anosike and Alberta Auguste had 12 apiece. Anosike is now just 20 points away from 1,000 for her career.

Auguste was the bright spot off the bench for Tennessee. She was solid defensively and also had four rebounds.

"She did a great job," Summitt said.

The starters got off to a roaring start as they jumped out to a 15-4 lead and forced Mississippi State (14-9, 2-6) into an early timeout. Hornbuckle followed that with a steal – she had three for the game and now has 322 for her career and needs just 12 to be the all-time school leader – and an alley-oop pass to Parker.

But then Summitt went to her bench and the game unraveled.

"I'm really proud of the starters. … I go to the bench and everything falls apart," Summitt said.

One substitution worked OK when Auguste entered the game. But three substitutes in the game – Alex Fuller and Vicki Baugh also entered – took the team out of sync. Mississippi State went on a 21-0 run in a span of 7:3, and the Lady Vols trailed at halftime, 40-33, for the first time this season.

"The talk at halftime? You didn't hear it," Summitt asked Dearstone, who noted he had his headphones on at the break.

Tennessee outscored Mississippi State, 54-29, in the second half. The Lady Vols shot 57.9 percent in the second half – after hitting 34.4 percent in the first – and finished at 47.1 percent for the game.

The Lady Vols, however, had no answer for Alexis Rack, who scored a career-high 32 points to lead all scorers. She was 7-13 from behind the arc.

"She did a great job of coming off the bench," Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning said. "She played hard on both ends, encouraging to her teammates. She kept that up for 40 minutes, and that is what I have been encouraging her to do. I was very pleased with her."

Summitt was not pleased with her defense.

"I thought our defense was water; they went right through it," Summitt said. "We've built our program on defense and board play and we just had a lot of breakdowns, and weren't rebounding as well as we needed to. I didn't think our starters were lacking intensity though, we just didn't shoot the ball well, and sometimes that will carry over into your defense. Plus, I just thought Mississippi State played the best I've seen."

Summitt thought enough of Mississippi State's play to have an extended conversation with her former graduate assistant after the game. She told Fanning to demand that her team play with that intensity every game.

"Don't wait until Tennessee comes to town," Summitt said.

Mississippi State has played well in the SEC this season to open games – minus a miserable shooting performance against LSU – but has run out of steam in the second half.

"We see how we have to play," Fanning said. "I hope it is encouraging, and we know that we have to play like that. I have not seen that intensity in a long time. We just have to have that for an extended amount of time."

Fanning added, "I thought we made a lot of things happen in that first half. We contested shots harder. We went into the half with a lead, but we could have done a little more if we block out better.

"Tennessee has been a team that has had a lot of success in transition and especially on the offensive boards. We had balance in the first half with a lot of different people contributing. Tennessee is a great basketball team, and they are going to go on runs. You have to keep focus and execute against a team like Tennessee. We have to keep them off the glass, and play better in transition. Also, we have to set our goals higher, and expect to play harder and be able to maintain focus throughout the course of the game. We have to put all of that together for two halves."

The Lady Vols prevailed on the boards, 47-41, and had 18 offensive boards for 21 second-chance points. Parker led Tennessee with 11 rebounds, Anosike had nine and Bobbitt and Hornbuckle had seven each. Tennessee got 21 points off 14 Lady Bulldog turnovers and while the Lady Vols had 13 turnovers, Mississippi State managed just eight points from the miscues.

Parker tied a career-high with seven assists, and several of those were the result of finding Bjorklund out of double teams. Tennessee hit 9-19 from behind the arc (47.4 percent) with Bobbitt nailing four, Bjorklund hitting three and Hornbuckle, two.

Anosike had three assists by finding open shooters and a cutting Parker early in the second half. An Anosike turn-around jumper in the lane on the next possession gave Tennessee its second-half lead.

"We weren't what I would say the most-focused basketball team, but thank goodness our starters, for the most part, were focused," Summitt said.

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