WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Tennessee got a surprise preview of what life without Candace Parker will look like next season. All indications are the future still appears to be pretty darn good.
With the national player of the year candidate and soon-to-be WNBA player plagued by fouls and neutralized by Oral Roberts’ zone defense, the defending national champions turned to their other talented players to plug holes.
It was no big deal for this team.
Freshman Angie Bjorklund had 16 points and 7 rebounds, hit four 3-pointers and led the Lady Volunteers to their customary first-round rout, 94-55 over the 16th-seeded Golden Eagles on Sunday night.
Parker had 14 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks in just 18 minutes and went to the bench for good with her fourth foul with 14:04 left in the game. Neither coach Pat Summitt nor Parker expected it to go this way.
“I don’t think it was 18 minutes by design,” Parker said, smiling as she turned to Summitt. “I kind of got in a little foul trouble.”
Truth was, top-seeded Tennessee (31-2) didn’t need Parker much Sunday, something that could change Tuesday night when it faces ninth-seeded Purdue in the Boilermakers’ home arena. Purdue reached the second round with a 66-59 win over eighth-seeded Utah.
But this game didn’t fit Parker’s style that well anyway. The Lady Vols hit seven 3-pointers in the first half and wound up making 12 3s, their second-highest total of the season, and struggled to get in sync early.
To Summitt, the career victories leader with 978 wins and now one away from her 100th career win in NCAA tournament play, the start was disappointing.
“I really felt when we came out we didn’t defend and when we don’t defend, we’re not a very good team,” she said. “I’m very disappointed with how we played defensively in the first half.”
Try telling that to the Golden Eagles (19-14), whose long-shot chances for upsetting the top seed in the Oklahoma City regional got far longer on the opening tip when their top scorer and only all-Summit League player, Mariana Camargo, slid awkwardly out of bounds while chasing the ball near the Volunteers’ baseline.
Officials finally stopped play 14 seconds into the game, with Camargo still on the ground. A few minutes later, she was carried from the court to the locker room and didn’t re-emerge until there was 11:58 left in the first half—when she hobbled on crutches behind the Golden Eagles bench with her left knee wrapped.
Summitt acknowledged it was enough to rattle even her tourney-tested team.
So for Oral Roberts, now 0-5 all-time in NCAA play, it was an even tougher blow. Coach Jerry Finkbeiner said it appeared Camargo slipped on a Tennessee cheerleader’s sign.
“Obviously, we lost to an outstanding basketball team,” Finkbeiner said. “We had a tremendous challenge, and we had the challenge of losing the only person who probably could have matched up at her position.”
Somehow, the Golden Eagles figured out a way to hang around for a while. They tied the score at 6, again at 9 and were still within 16-15 with 10:29 to go in the first half.
From there, it was all Tennessee. Alexis Hornbuckle and Bjorklund hit back-to-back 3s and Parker’s steal and coast-to-coast layup with 8:30 left made it 26-15. It appeared Oral Roberts might have a better chance when Parker sat down after her second foul 12 seconds later.
But the Lady Vols were only warming up.
By the end of the 16-2 run, Tennessee led 34-17, and Oral Roberts couldn’t capitalize on Parker’s absence or its shooting touch. Despite its 59.3 shooting percentage, they still trailed 55-43.
“I thought Alexis was really good, and Candace, unfortunately, just couldn’t seem to keep herself in the game for a long time,” Summitt said. “But it was good to see Alberta (Auguste) play well and get Vicki (Baugh) some playing time. I thought we played much better in the second half.”
Strangely enough, it was a half in which Parker logged barely 6 minutes.
And when the Golden Eagles started missing shots, players such as Hornbuckle, Auguste and Bjorklund carried Tennessee to another postseason win. Hornbuckle and Auguste each had 13 points for Tennessee, which improved to 41-0 in first- and second-round games. Baugh and Sydney Smallbone—both freshmen— scored eight and seven points, respectively.
Rachel Watman finished with 15 points and Janae Voelker had nine points and 11 rebounds for Oral Roberts.
“The first half, we were really pumped,” Watman said. “We came ready to play. We were hitting our shots and getting the offense we needed. They were let out of the gate and started running on us.”