KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee has already played two teams coach Rick Insell thinks could reach the Final Four. He hopes the experience of losing to defending national champion Maryland and No. 4 Tennessee will help get his Blue Raiders there someday.
Candace Parker and Sidney Spencer each scored 16 points for the Lady Vols in an 88-64 victory on Sunday.
Tennessee (5-0) built a big lead in the first half by shooting 63 percent — 21-of-33 from the field — and took advantage of having taller players.
The Blue Raiders (3-3) opened the season by nearly knocking off Maryland but lost 80-76. They struggled to keep up with Tennessee.
"They are two great teams. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see both of them in the Final Four," Insell said. "The difference in today was we played Maryland at Middle Tennessee, and we might have had just a little bit of a home-court advantage. Tennessee might have had just a little bit of a home-court advantage today."
Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, a longtime friend of Insell's, said she was pleased with her team's performance, particularly in the first half.
"We knew going into this game we would obviously have to try and dictate tempo. We wanted to extend our defense and try to generate offense off our defense, which we seemed to be able to after we settled down," she said. "We got good looks off our transition."
Parker left the game in the second half with a knee injury after falling on the court while several players were going after a loose ball.
She sat on the bench the rest of the game with her right knee wrapped in ice, but after the game she said it was not serious.
"I'm good," Parker said. "I just sat as a precaution."
The Lady Vols didn't think Middle Tennessee's game against Maryland could be compared to Sunday's game.
"It was Maryland's first game. They came out with a win. That's what big teams do no matter how ugly it might have been," Tennessee's Alexis Hornbuckle said. "We just have to focus on Tennessee. We're not worried about what everyone else is doing."
Nicky Anosike added 13 points for the Lady Vols, and reserve Alex Fuller added a career-high 12 points while playing in front of her high school coach — Insell, now in his second season with the Blue Raiders.
Insell coached several future Lady Vols at Shelbyville High School.
"I was kind of nervous at the beginning because I was playing against him instead of with him," Fuller said. "Once you've been an Eaglette, you always kind of have Eaglette blood in you."
Spencer was 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Parker added nine rebounds.
The Lady Vols were 10-of-17 from beyond the arc.
Chrissy Givens, who came into the game averaging 21.6 points per game, led Middle Tennessee with 26 points while freshman Brandi Brown had 12. Amber Holt, who was averaging 21.2, was held to eight points.
Middle Tennessee cut the lead to 19 at the beginning of the second half on Givens' 3 but could not get any closer.
After Parker went out with 13:18 left, Anosike scored six straight points to increase the lead to 71-41.
The Blue Raiders were ahead 10-5 in the early minutes, but Tennessee started forcing turnovers and took the lead 14-13 on Hornbuckle's first steal and pull-up jumper.
The Lady Vols later pulled away with a 10-0 run fueled by baskets from Alberta Auguste and Parker off Blue Raiders turnovers. Fuller capped it with a 3-pointer that made it 26-15 with 8:29 remaining in the first half.
Givens scored four quick points to trim it to seven with six minutes to go in the first half, but the Lady Vols reeled off a 9-0 run started by another 3 from Fuller. Hornbuckle finished it with a layup off another steal. She had nine points.
After Givens' 3 with 1:55 left, Tennessee scored the final seven points of the half to take a 49-27 lead into the break.