Friday, March 07, 2008

Parker scores 26 as No. 3 Tennessee beats Florida 92-61

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has been waiting for her third-ranked Lady Volunteers to recover from their national championship hangover.

Starting a new postseason, she was finally pleased with the effort they brought in a 92-61 win over Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament on Friday.

“We played a 40-minute game, didn’t we?” Candace Parker asked, with Summitt’s approval. “Somebody mark that down.”

Parker scored 26 points, and the No. 3 Lady Vols (28-2) advanced to the semifinals, where they will play either No. 21 Vanderbilt or Auburn.

Second-seeded Tennessee hasn’t lost a quarterfinal game since 1993.

“Coming off a national championship, it can be challenging in terms of getting the players to understand how they have to play every possession,” said Summitt, who earned her 975th win. “I think in some regard, if they could, they would have said let’s fast-forward this season and get to the postseason.”

Florida (18-13) made its third consecutive trip to the quarterfinals, but hasn’t gotten any farther since 1997. The Gators have lost 15 straight games to ranked opponents.

“We got beat by what I think is the best team in the country,” said Florida coach Amanda Butler. “They’re talented, they’re deep.”

Shannon Bobbitt scored 22 points for Tennessee, and Alexis Hornbuckle added 16.

The Lady Vols served as the home team for the game both on the scoreboard and in the stands. A majority of the SEC tournament session-record 9,938 fans donned Tennessee orange.

Florida kept close early, even grabbing a one-point lead on a layup by Sha Brooks five minutes into the game.

Brooks, who made a career-high seven 3-pointers in the Gators’ regular season loss at Tennessee, hit three on six attempts. She finished with 20 points, and Depree Bowden added 15.

Marshae Dotson, Florida’s leading scorer and rebounder, left the game with 13:51 left in the first half after spraining her left knee. The Gators were down by five at the time.

“(Losing Dotson) definitely affected our low post game,” Bowden said.

The Lady Vols broke away with a 12-1 run, and free throws by Bobbitt put Tennessee up 44-27 with 3:37 left before halftime.

Parker already had 20 points by the break, with Tennessee up 48-33. The Lady Vols shot 54.8 from the field in the first half and went 13-for-15 from the free throw line.

Parker said her teammates knew it was important to start the tournament off strong—something they felt they didn’t do last year, subsequently losing to LSU in the semifinals.

“Before the game, Nicky Anosike pulled us together and said we didn’t start the tournament off last year well at all. That really set our tone,” Parker said. “We all knew we had to come to play.”

Tennessee built its lead after halftime on the play of the Lady Vols bench. Tennessee scored easily in transition with 24 points off turnovers and 30 fast-break points.

Tennessee shot 55.4 percent from the field for the game, its best shooting percentage against an SEC opponent.

The Lady Vols also forced 17 turnovers, blocked 11 shots and stole the ball 12 times.

“We just gave up way too many in the full court,” Butler said. “That had a lot to do with our transition defense, or lack thereof.”

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