Saturday, November 03, 2007

Parker All-Orange for U.S. exhibition

The question was irresistible and not entirely inappropriate.

In advance of the U.S. senior national team's women's basketball exhibition against Tennessee, U.S. guard Kara Lawson asked Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt: "Is Candace playing with us when we come to Tennessee?"

Doesn't hurt to inquire. Parker has played with the U.S. team the past two years. She helped the Americans clinch a berth in the 2008 Summer Olympics by playing a key role at the FIBA Americas tournament in Valdivia, Chile, in late September.

Lawson, a former Lady Vol, was Parker's U.S. teammate there just five weeks ago. She won't be her teammate when the teams tip off at 3 today at Thompson-Boling Arena. As Summitt told Lawson: "There's no way."

Parker dismissed a suggestion that she play a half with both teams much like she'd reject an opponent's shot.

"I don't think my coach or my teammates would allow that to happen,'' Parker said.

The 6-foot-5 redshirt junior forward is All-Orange today. She is Tennessee's best asset, in terms of both talent and experience. There's no questioning her advice either.

"We have to go out there and play intense,'' Parker said. "We can't play scared."

That's easy for her to say. The thought is easy to grasp for her veteran teammates, too. They played key roles in Tennessee's drive to a national championship last spring.

But four freshmen will be making their UT debuts. First-year wing player Angie Bjorklund will start. She will take the court before an expected crowd of about 13,000 and line up against seasoned professionals. Some have Olympic gold medals and WNBA championships to their credit.

Lawson is stoked for this game and was trying to fire up her U.S. teammates in the aftermath of Friday's 90-74 win at Connecticut.

"I already told these guys after this game was over that they have to come and play because we have to win,'' Lawson said.

Doesn't sound like Lawson is convening a freshman welcoming committee.

"My first college game,'' Bjorklund said, "is against people I watched when I was like 5 (years old) on TV."

Summitt jokingly emphasized the importance of no gawking.

"I'll remind them not to get autographs in the pregame,'' she said. "At least wait until after the game."

Tennessee senior center Nicky Anosike has given this game considerable thought and developed a dual perspective.

"I think it's good for the seniors because we know what the competition is like. I think it will be good for us to see where we are and how we measure up,'' she said. "But as far as the freshmen, I just hope they give everything they have, just so they won't feel discouraged. ... as long as they use it as more of a teaching tool and not let it discourage them, I think they'll be fine, too."

Bjorklund and the rest of the rookies could use Lawson's experience in this game as their guide. Her first game at Tennessee in 1999 also was against the U.S. national team. She recalled being guarded by living legend Teresa Edwards and lining up at the free-throw line next to 6-5 center Lisa Leslie, who's making a comeback on this tour after having a baby.

"I was pretty sure I wasn't going to get that rebound if it came off,'' Lawson said.

Lawson also seemed pretty sure of herself in the final moments, when she banked in a 10-footer with 9.4 seconds left to finish her 14-point performance and give Tennessee a 65-64 victory. The outcome remains the lone U.S. loss on a collegiate tour.

"It's a win-win situation for the college teams,'' Lawson said. "They have nothing to lose. You want to see how good you can do against players you've grown up watching."

About the only thing the Lady Vols could squander is the opportunity.

"It's going to be pretty packed (in the arena) on Sunday,'' Parker said, "so it's going to be like a real game."

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