Top-10 teams bring big stats
KNOXVILLE — Pat Summitt doesn't waste her time worrying about Candace Parker in games like this.
Tennessee's 33rd-year women's basketball coach doesn't typically make assumptions when it comes to her players.
Parker, the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer and shot blocker, is a rare exception.
"I worry about the games that aren't as big and whether she's going to bring the same intensity level," Summitt said. "I don't ever worry about Candace being ready for big games."
That should make life easier for Summitt and the fourth-ranked Lady Vols (17-1) tonight, when top-ranked Duke (19-0) visits Thompson-Boling Arena.
As good as Parker has been so far in her sophomore season, she's been even better against highly ranked opponents. She's averaged 26.7 points in her four games against top-10 teams, a full seven points higher than her scoring average for the season (19.7).
"In big games, that's what you have to do," Parker said. "That's what you grow up dreaming about. You grow up dreaming of playing in these games and making big plays.
"I've watched my idols make big plays in big games. That's what you do. You're not scared of pressure, you love it."
'Nobody can guard her'
Parker's presence in big games has become more noticeable since she knocked down the game-winning shot with 17 seconds left in last year's SEC Tournament championship game against LSU.
She has yet to match the drama of that shot, but she's made a habit of taking over games this year whenever the Lady Vols have been in trouble.
"I just think Candace understands (that) in those games she has to put up numbers for us," Summitt said. "She looks for the ball, and I think her teammates look to get her the basketball.
"We try to move her a lot. … That's where her versatility is obviously very important on the offensive end."
Parker has scored at least 25 points against each of UT's four top-ranked opponents — Arizona State, Stanford, North Carolina and Connecticut. She dunked in two of those games, including Jan. 6 at Connecticut, where she finished one of the best games of her career with 30 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks.
"When we need a score, we get Candace the ball inside," UT junior guard Alexis Hornbuckle said. "When she thinks she's unstoppable, nobody can guard her."
Thursday's 73-44 win over Mississippi State suggested Parker might be human after all.
She was forced to sit out for the first time this season with a respiratory illness that has bothered her for the past several days. She went through pregame warmups that night before leaving the court short of breath because of excessive coughing.
Considering the opposition, Summitt said she expects Parker to be fine tonight.
"She wanted to get back on the court the next day, and I was glad after she missed the game that she was able to get back," Summitt said.
"She's a big-game player. … She'll be ready."