Wednesday, January 03, 2007

(4) Tennessee 72, Alabama 36

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- An easy win gave fourth-ranked Tennessee time to plan ahead for its next game.

The Lady Vols travel to No. 5 Connecticut on Saturday in what has become the premiere rivalry in women's college basketball.

Their official preparations began after beating Alabama 72-36 on Wednesday night to open the Southeastern Conference season, but coach Pat Summitt got a head start by giving her reserves extra playing time and by toying with different lineups.

"I thought we had a number of different looks. All in all we maintained our intensity, and I anticipated going that route if we had an opportunity to do so," Summitt said. "I just felt like going into a game like Connecticut and going into that environment that we needed some quality minutes (for the bench)."

Tennessee (13-1) beat Alabama for the 31st straight game and the Crimson Tide (10-6) fell to 2-38 all-time against the Lady Vols.

Candace Parker led Tennessee with 15 points while reserve Alberta Auguste added 11. Alexis Hornbuckle had seven assists.

The Lady Vols led by 20 early but looked bland. They came out with more intensity in the opening minutes of the second half when the lead ballooned to 30. Alabama could not keep pace.

Parker had 10 points in the first half and was 7-of-14 from the floor. She didn't play much after halftime.

Talisha Chandler led Alabama with 14 points.

"I think our defense really was key tonight. We set the tone defensively," Parker said. "The SEC schedule is going to be hard, and every team is going to be coming at us. We just have to bring defense and rebounding and we'll be fine."

Tennessee has won seven in a row since losing at No. 2 North Carolina on Dec. 3. The wins include George Washington, Texas and Old Dominion.

Playing one of the lower-tier teams in the SEC was not particularly exciting for fans. The Lady Vols had 20 turnovers while Alabama had 35 and were uncharacteristically outrebounded 34-32.

One of the largest cheers from the crowd came when a malfunctioning scoreboard that beeped uncontrollably was turned off in the first half.

The game got more interesting when Tennessee guard Cait McMahan had an acrobatic basket. She dribbled behind her back and then scooped the ball around Alabama's 6-foot-4 Courtney Strauthers and into the basket late in the second half.

"I just saw an open shot through the lane, and I guess I shot it," McMahan, a freshman, said.

Hornbuckle added: "I couldn't believe the shot went in. I walked to the end of the bench and just stood there for a second. You don't see that shot go in very much."

Earlier, Auguste scored when she inbounded the ball to herself by bouncing it off the back of an Alabama player.

The Tide's leading scorer, Navonda Moore, was well off her average of 14 points a game. She was held to five points. Kate Mastin, who was averaging 13.8 points, was scoreless.

Alabama coach Stephany Smith lamented having six freshmen.

"We are a work in progress," she said. "I had no idea how we'd be in our first SEC basketball game. You compound that by your first SEC basketball (game) being Tennessee and you compound that by being in Knoxville, Tenn. We didn't respond as well as I thought."

Tennessee was leading 25-5 midway through the first half. Afterward, the lead dipped below 20 and was sloppy on both sides for a few minutes while the Lady Vols had most of their starters out of the game.

Tennessee went up 35-14 at halftime. The Tide's first half total was the lowest by an SEC team against the Lady Vols.

Alabama had 21 turnovers and made only 6-of-22 field goals in the first half.

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