RUSTON – Tennessee is ranked No. 4 in the nation.
Louisiana Tech head coach Chris Long doesn’t necessarily agree with the pollsters.
Long’s team will take on Pat Summitt and Co. Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Thomas Assembly Center in the 39th meeting ever between the two winningest programs in the history of women’s basketball.
The Lady Vols enter the game 5-0 on the young season, and boasting the game’s most talented player in sophomore Candace Parker.
“She’s the best that’s ever played,” Long said. “I’m serious.”
Parker is 6-foot-4 and can do anything.
She does everything for the Lady Vols.
Coming off a freshman campaign that saw her earn Kodak All-America honors, Parker is averaging 20.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 steals, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 assists per game, while shooting 63 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free throw line.
Parker has already recorded two dunks this season, including one against Top 10 Stanford. She became the first female to ever dunk twice in a game when she accomplished the feat against Army in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
“She does so many things that make you go, ‘Wow,’” Long said. “She is so much bigger and stronger. We have a clip where she catches the ball at the elbow, spins and shoots a one-handed, left-handed jump shot. She’s right handed.”
Parker leads a talented cast that has already disposed of three top 25 teams and has won its five games by an average of over 20 points a contest.
The Lady Vols are shooting 55 percent from the field, 49 percent from the three-point line and 75 percent from the free throw line. Defensively, they are forcing 23 turnovers a game and blocking over five shots a contest.
“I think Tennessee is probably stronger than they’ve been in quite a few years,” Long said. “Their athleticism rivals any team they’ve ever had. They are pressing and are more aggressive than they’ve been in the last few years, and they’ve always played great defense.
“We are going to have to rebound and attack offensively and get after them on defense. It’s an opportunity to play against a great team at home and an opportunity for our team to get better.”
Tech is 2-3 on the season and has struggled to find an identity. The Lady Techsters showed with their 77-59 win over a previously undefeated Iowa team on the road that they have the ability to play with almost anyone.
However, losses to Stephen F. Austin and Eastern Kentucky have proven that the team is still a long ways from becoming as consistent both offensively and defensively as Long expects.
“It’s all about having our team playing its best at the end of the year, and we will definitely learn from this game … win or lose,” Long said.
Tennessee leads the all-time series 21-17, including having won six straight.