Wednesday, December 20, 2006

No. 5 Tennessee tops West Virginia 66-51

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee's Alexis Hornbuckle wanted a peaceful Christmas at home in West Virginia.

Candace Parker helped her cause with 19 points and a dunk, and Hornbuckle added 18 to help the fifth-ranked Lady Vols beat West Virginia 66-51 on Wednesday.

"I might have wanted to play one of the better games I have played yet," said Hornbuckle, a junior from Charleston, W.Va. "I told the girls in one of our huddles before the game, 'Ladies, let's just please play well. I want to go home for Christmas. I won't be able to show my face if we play bad or lose.'"

Parker dunked for the third time this season, drawing a technical foul for popping her jersey as the Lady Vols (10-1) were building a big lead in the first half. She had 13 points by halftime and finished with 10 rebounds.

Hornbuckle picked it up in the second half, scoring 11 points after the break. She was 4-of-6 in 3-point shooting.

The Mountaineers (7-5), who led only once after scoring the first basket of the game, cut the margin to eight early in the second half. But Shannon Bobbitt hit a 3 and Parker scored to push Tennessee's lead to 40-27.

Yet the Lady Vols' lead didn't appear completely safe until the final minutes. Neither team could sustain a long run.

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt wanted to renew the series with West Virginia to give Hornbuckle a chance to return to her home state to play. The Lady Vols will travel to West Virginia next season. The teams had not faced each other since 1986.

"If she can play and put up numbers for us and have the kind of efficiency that she had tonight, we're a much better basketball team," Summitt said of Hornbuckle.

Parker has five dunks in her career, the most of any collegiate woman. She got a steal and jammed it with one hand on a breakaway. Afterward, Parker pulled out her jersey to show off the word "Tennessee" across it. The officials conferred with each other and whistled her for the technical.

"I'll have to take total blame for that because actually (official) John Morningstar said that's a new rule," Summitt said. "When we watched the (officiating) video somewhere along the way coach Summitt missed that and so did my entire staff."

Summitt said Parker popped her jersey after dunking in the season opener against Chattanooga but no technical was called then.

"We have played some opponents who have popped their collar at us. I didn't know that was the rule. It is. I learned from it, and it's not going to happen anymore," Parker said.

Ranisha White led West Virginia with a career-high 16 points, while Olayinka Sanni had 10. LaQuita Owens added nine points and nine rebounds.

"When Parker dunked the ball I thought 'Wow, we're in trouble.' You know, the crowd got involved. But give our girls credit, they didn't quit. They kept scrapping," West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. "Their size overwhelmed us at times."

The Lady Vols have won four in a row since losing at No. 2 North Carolina on Dec. 3.

West Virginia's zone defense bothered Tennessee early, and Summitt was upset with the way her reserves played.

"I think for the most part we have to be pleased with our starters and how they got us out to a great start," Summitt said. "I thought when we substituted we lost some rhythm offensively."

The Mountaineers had 24 turnovers and shot only 35 percent (19-of-54) from the field.

Tennessee jumped out to a 20-4 lead capped by Parker's dunk with 12:56 remaining. The Lady Vols went up by as many as 20, but West Virginia had a 7-0 run that made it 27-16 with 6:59 before halftime.

Bobbitt followed with a 3 and Alex Fuller made one of two free throws to increase the lead to 15, but the Mountaineers stayed with Tennessee and were down 32-23 at the break.

No comments: