Sunday, March 09, 2008

Parker lifts No. 3 Tennessee over No. 7 LSU 61-55 in SEC title game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Lady Vols do not like being embarrassed or being denied championships. Now they’re going home with yet another Southeastern Conference tournament title at the expense of the team that handed them their worst league loss since 1985.

Candace Parker hit a jumper with 1:57 left that put Tennessee ahead to stay, and the No. 3 Lady Vols won their record 13th SEC title and third in four years by beating No. 7 LSU 61-55 Sunday night.

The last three all have come against LSU, but this win is a little sweeter for Tennessee after the Lady Tigers won the SEC regular season by defeating the Lady Vols 78-62 in Knoxville on Feb. 14. The Lady Vols (30-2) reached 30 wins for a sixth straight season and for the 18th time in coach Pat Summitt’s 34 years.

LSU (27-5) hoped to add the school’s third tournament title and first since 2003 in the Lady Tigers’ fourth straight chance in the title game. But the Lady Tigers could not score again after Sylvia Fowles hit only one of two free throws with 1:37 to go.

Parker finished with 28 points and Shannon Bobbitt had 12 for Tennessee. Nicky Anosike had a team-high 11 rebounds for the Lady Vols.

Fowles finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds for LSU, and Quianna Chaney added 13.

Nobody has played the Lady Vols tougher or tighter over the years than LSU, especially with titles on the line. The past two tournament championships played by these teams had been decided by a combined four points.

They swapped the lead 16 times with five ties. LSU last led 54-51 on a drive by Chaney with 3:35 left.

Bobbitt answered with a 3 to tie it, and Parker hit an 18-foot jumper at the end of the shot clock to put Tennessee back up 56-54 with 1:57 remaining.

Parker added two more free throws as Tennessee was 5-of-7 at the line in the final 45.7 seconds to clinch the victory before a record crowd of 12,392—the largest ever to watch an SEC tournament game, with most of the fans wearing Lady Vols’ orange.

The Lady Vols were not happy after blowing a 21-2 lead to LSU in Knoxville. That loss tied a loss to Georgia in 1985 for the worst SEC defeat in Tennessee history at home. And it prompted a meeting between Summitt and her staff with the Lady Vols, plus a players’ only session.

They now have won six straight since the loss that Summitt called a wakeup call for a team still enjoying the national championship the Lady Vols won last spring.

This is the sixth time the Lady Vols have finished second in the SEC in the regular season only to bounce back and win the tournament title.

The loss sent LSU coach Van Chancellor home without a tournament title yet again. The Hall of Fame coach didn’t win this tournament in his 19 seasons at Mississippi, and having the regular season crown didn’t help either. LSU now has gone home empty-handed in six of the Lady Tigers’ eight appearances in the title game.

Tennessee led most of the first half and was up 25-22 at halftime.

The game picked up when LSU tied it for the third time, at 33, when Allison Hightower hit a 3-pointer that capped seven straight points. As Tennessee went without a field goal for more than five minutes, the Lady Tigers went ahead, but by no more than four, the last 39-35 on a bucket by Fowles.

Parker tied it with a layup off a fastbreak, and her free throw put Tennessee back up 40-39 to start a furious stretch as the teams went up and down the court swapping the lead back and forth.

It was such a physical game that official Joe Cunningham was hurt in the first half and had to be replaced by standby referee Mary Day with 4:32 to go.

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