The star of the show was benched and a lesson learned.
Twenty minutes without suspended junior All-American Candace Parker was obviously an eye-opener.
It reminded everyone the real star of the show is the Tennessee Lady Vols’ basketball team, not any one player.
“I was really proud of our team and the way they responded,” UT coach Pat Summitt said of suspending Parker for the first half of Wednesday night’s 102-68 romp past DePaul for missing curfew.
“You never know when there’s a little adversity how it will all play out, but the team was great. Candace had a great attitude and was very supportive. It was really positive and very upbeat.”
Turning a negative into a positive is one of Summitt’s long-standing traditions.
It’s one of the reasons seven national championship banners are dangling from the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena.
This was just another example.
“I hated it,” Summitt said. “I hated that what happened happened and I had no choice as a coach. I think we have to abide by the rules, and if not there are consequences.
“I’m sure there were a lot of disappointed people. It wasn’t easy. It bothered me for her and for all the people who bought tickets to that game because of Candace. But I also knew that was a decision I felt was the best one.”
In a packed gym, virtually everyone had come to see Parker make her long awaited return home to Chicago.
Her family and friends were 60 strong and parked directly behind the UT bench donned in CP3 T-shirts — and the No. 3-ranked Lady Vols (11-1) never blinked.
At the half, Parker still in warmups, UT had a 53-34 lead against the No. 15-ranked Blue Demons.
Alex Fuller, Parker’s replacement, was unconscious.
She was tossing up left-handed hooks, scoring from the lane and firing her way to a career-high 19 points.
“Alex has been shooting the basketball really well, but she hasn’t scored as well in the paint,” Summitt said. “She had a great left hook, she read the defense, but what was really encouraging was how she rebounded the ball (seven boards).
“Not only did she help us in this game, I think she could play a significant role for our team as we move forward.”
Then there was Nicky Anosike. She stepped up and went 6-of-7 from the floor, had 17 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Alexis Hornbuckle, playing her first game since learning of the death of her paternal grandmother before Christmas, scored 16 points.
Oh, and Parker played 19 minutes in the second half, scored 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and had five rebounds.
“I don’t know what was going on in the minds of each individual,” Summitt said of playing without Parker, “but collectively they went out and played really well as a team.
“They played hard and they shared the basketball.”
The Lady Vols took Thursday off for some free time to shop and see the sights of Chicago.
They return to practice today in Chicago to prepare for Saturday’s visit to No. 14-ranked Notre Dame (2 p.m., TV: WVLT).
Polar Vols: It’s a tradition for a few brave souls in the Chicago-land area to take a dip in Lake Michigan on New Year’s Day.
That was too tempting to pass up for Lady Vols’ assistant AD for sports medicine Jenny Moshak and assistant AD for basketball operations Danielle Donehew.
“They were polar bears,” Summitt said. “I didn’t know they did it until Danielle came up and showed me some pictures.
“I told her they had lost their minds.”