Saturday, January 06, 2007

(4) Tennessee 70, (5) Connecticut 64

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Candace Parker left an emphatic mark on Tennessee's storied rivalry with Connecticut.

Parker scored 30 points, including the sixth dunk of her career, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked six shots to help No. 4 Tennessee hold off fifth-ranked Connecticut 70-64 on Saturday at the Hartford Civic Center.

Sidney Spencer added 14 points for the Lady Vols (14-1), who have now beaten their rivals three straight times.

Charde Houston scored 23 points to lead Connecticut (12-1). Leading scorer Renee Montgomery struggled from the field. She was held to four points on 2-for-11 shooting.

It was Parker's fourth dunk this season and came with 18:20 left in the second half, giving Tennessee a 45-29 lead.

Parker is the fifth woman to dunk in a college game and has dunked the most. She joins Michelle Snow of Tennessee, Sancho Lyttle of Houston, Charlotte Smith of North Carolina and Georgeann Wells of West Virginia.

Her dunk seemed to ignite Connecticut, which went on a 31-15 spurt to tie the game at 60 with 4:04 left. Houston had 12 points during the spurt.

Spencer answered with a 3-pointer to give Tennessee a 63-60 edge with 3:40 left. After drawing an offensive foul on Brittany Hunter, Parker scored on a driving layup to just beat the shot clock and extend the lead to five.

Houston answered with a layup to cut the deficit to three, but the Huskies could get no closer.

This was the 22nd meeting between the rivals with Connecticut holding a 13-9 edge.

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said the scope of the rivalry isn't what it used to be because there are more teams that could win the national championship. Neither squad made the Final Four last season -- the first time that had happened since 1999.

"In some sense, a small sense, it's still the Red Sox and the Yankees. It still is," Auriemma said. "But there's still a lot more good things going on in college basketball now. That's just the reality of it."

Auriemma challenged his team before the game, reminding them that none of them had beaten Tennessee, a benchmark that separates his good teams from the great ones.

"He just pointed everybody out and said, `You, you, you, you, you, you, you' have never beaten Tennessee," said Hunter, who played her first game after missing the last three with a sore knee. "That was just like a dagger in the heart."

These Huskies still haven't.

They were looking to open the season with 13 wins for the first time since 2002-03 -- the last time Connecticut had no seniors. That team went on to win the first of two straight national championships.

The game got off to a slow start with both teams struggling from the field. Auriemma tried to inspire his team, drawing a technical after an offensive foul on Tina Charles with 7:20 left in the first half and the Lady Vols leading 20-17.

Tennessee maintained a 26-24 edge with 4:13 left before closing the half on a 15-5 run, spurred on by Shannon Bobbitt and Parker.

Bobbitt hit three 3-pointers and Parker had three layups as the Lady Vols went into the break up 41-29.

Parker had 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in the first half.

Auriemma was presented with a ball before the game commemorating his 600th victory, which he reached Sunday in his 22nd season. He became the fastest coach to achieve the mark, surpassing Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who did it in 23 seasons.

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