Parker and Tennessee Back on Rocky Top
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
TAMPA, April 8 -- Tennessee is back to doing what it does so well -- winning national championships. With a 64-48 victory over Stanford in Tuesday night's final, the Lady Vols won back-to-back titles for the first time since they won three in a row from 1996 to '98.
Before a sea of bright orange-clad fans -- St. Pete Times Forum looked more like Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville than a neutral court -- Tennessee (36-2) used a smothering defense to stagnate Stanford's fluid offense and earn its eighth title in 13 championship appearances.
"I thought this was one of our best defensive efforts," Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said.
Tennessee was led by Candace Parker, who capped her college career with 17 points and nine rebounds. The Naismith player of the year and three-time all-American, who is expected to be the top pick in Wednesday's WNBA draft, overcame a shoulder injury to earn most outstanding player honors for the second year in a row.
"I'm just very, very fortunate to win two national championships," Parker said. "But we worked hard for it, and we deserved it."
The highly anticipated duel between Parker and Stanford's Candice Wiggins never materialized. Alberta Auguste had vowed she would follow Wiggins to the restroom if she had to in order to slow down the tournament's most prolific scorer, and from the outset the Tennessee forward gave Stanford's four-time all-American little room in which to operate. Wiggins had 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting, an output that was nearly half her scoring average in the tournament.
Stanford (35-4), which had won 23 games in a row since Jan. 6, had been out to prove that it was a better team than most people thought. Ever since the selection committee made the Cardinal a No. 2 seed rather than the top seed it felt it deserved, Stanford had thrived as the overlooked and under-appreciated team. In trying to win its first title since 1992, the Cardinal knocked off two No. 1 seeds -- Maryland and Connecticut -- en route to the championship game, but didn't have enough to get past a third.
Tennessee had been burned badly by Stanford's high-low game the last time these teams met, and the Lady Vols came out determined to limit the Cardinal's touches underneath the basket. Tennessee gave Stanford no room to run its triangle offense, cutting off passing lanes and bewildering ballhandlers. The Cardinal averaged 85 points in the NCAA tournament, but failed to reach 50 against the Lady Vols.
"My mind-set coming into the game was I wasn't going to leave here without a national championship," said Tennessee center Nicky Anosike, who had six of the Lady Vols' 13 steals. "If we lost, I was going to live here. No one was going to deny me a national championship."
Stanford's talented front court of Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen never got on track. Pedersen, tasked with trying to slow down Parker, was in early foul trouble. She had been averaging a double-double in the tournament, but finished with seven points and 10 rebounds. Appel kept running into the long arms of Tennessee defenders. She had 16 points and was the only player beside Wiggins to score in double figures for the Cardinal.
"We had a tough time matching up with their size," Appel said. "They're a really athletic team."
Tennessee's full-court pressure devastated Stanford. The Cardinal, which had just one turnover in the first half against Connecticut in the semifinal, turned over the ball 14 times before halftime. The Lady Vols forced Stanford into 24 turnovers, converting them into 26 points.
"We made a lot of uncharacteristic turnovers and some very bad decisions," Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said.
After falling behind by 11 points in the first half, Stanford pulled to 37-33 early in the second half. But before it could take the lead, a pair of missed layups and three consecutive turnovers doomed the Cardinal. From that point on, Tennessee's lead dipped below double digits once.
Vicki Baugh's injury was about the only black mark on an otherwise impressive Tennessee victory. Baugh drove to the basket for a layup and came down clutching her knee with 7 minutes 14 seconds left in the game. After writhing in pain for several minutes, she was helped off the court and back to the locker room. She returned on crutches with 1 1/2 minutes to play.
"They came out with a great mentality to play hard, especially on the defensive end," Summitt said. "It was our defense that got it done."