NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As a doctor checked Candace Parker's knee on Friday, the Tennessee star turned to her trainer and mouthed, "Don't count me out for Monday."
A day after Parker bruised her knee in No. 2 Tennessee's 87-69 win over Mississippi State, the 6-foot-4 forward was plotting how she'd prepare for Monday's game against a No. 7 Rutgers team that's rolling off an upset of top-ranked Connecticut.
"I am going to be rehabbing like crazy," she said Friday at practice, where she hobbled around on crutches. "(Tennessee trainer Jenny Moshak) and I are going to be buddies for the next 48 hours and just try to get back."
Coach Pat Summitt is urging caution with the knee that's already undergone two surgeries to repair a torn ligament that Parker suffered in high school and won't decide until Monday if Parker will play.
Parker was one of three Lady Vols to be injured in the scrappy game against the Lady Bulldogs. Freshman guard Angie Bjorklund broke her nose and senior forward Alberta Auguste reaggravated a shoulder injury.
Tennessee's schedule doesn't get much easier, with key Southeastern Conference opponents LSU and Vanderbilt up next.
"As big a game as it is to play Rutgers here at home, I'm hopeful that they will be able to play. But if they are not ready, they are not ready, and other people are going to have to step up," Summitt said.
None of the Lady Vols (21-1) are underestimating the stakes of Monday's game, also a rematch of the 2007 national championship game won by Tennessee 59-46. The game will air as part of ESPN2's "Big Monday" broadcast.
"It is a very emotional game for us as well," guard Alexis Hornbuckle said. "They knocked off the number one seed. If we can come in here Monday night and take care of business then we would become the number one seed, so we have a goal in mind as well."
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer doesn't think Tennessee would be any less dangerous without Parker as other Lady Vols will jump at a chance to show Summitt they can play just as hard as the star.
But, she also realizes just how important Parker is to women's basketball.
"She is the most versatile player in America, hands down. There has not been a player like her in the past 10 years or 20 years," Stringer said. "She is a game changer, there is no question about it. "
ESPN probably wouldn't mind having the fan favorite and dunking sensation back in the lineup for the broadcast, but said the Tennessee-Rutgers rematch meant more than just one player.
"We are disappointed about Candace Parker's injury, however the rematch of the 2007 national championship game led by two legendary coaches will still be a terrific game for an ESPN2 Big Monday franchise," said Carol Stiff, senior director of programming and acquisition for ESPN.
Doctors will monitor Parker's knee through Monday afternoon as she works with trainers. X-rays showed the ligament didn't sustain any permanent damage and shows no signs of swelling.
"Jenny Moshak is the best in the business at rehabbing. I told her she is going to earn her money, and she said she would be spending a lot of time with all of them, just trying to get them back and healthy and ready to play," Summitt said.