OKLAHOMA CITY — Even with an injured shoulder, Candace Parker was still able to lift Tennessee into another Final Four.
Parker scored 26 points and returned after dislocating her left shoulder to lead the Lady Vols out of a second-half deficit for a 53-45 win over Texas A&M in the Oklahoma City Regional final Tuesday night.
She twice left the game in the first half with the injury and she didn’t return until about halfway through the second half. She scored six of the Lady Vols’ points in an 8-0 run as they overcame a 42-37 deficit, all while wearing a brace to stabilize her left shoulder.
She scored only eight points in the second half, but it was enough to push the Lady Vols (34-2) ahead when combined with a sturdy defensive effort that kept Texas A&M (29-8) scoreless for a five-minute stretch.
Even after returning from the locker room with the shoulder wrapped, she shot an airball on her first jumper from the foul line and then couldn’t convert a layup off a lob at the right block.
She turned a second alley-oop attempt into a successful layup, and that got the Lady Vols’ run going. Shannon Bobbitt followed with two free throws, and Parker hit two of her own to put Tennessee ahead 43-42 with 3:44 to play. She went 1-for-2 on two successive trips to the foul line to stretch the lead to three.
After a free throw by the Aggies’ Takia Starks, Parker lost the ball in the lane but was able to recover and pass to Alexis Hornbuckle for a deep 3-pointer that gave the Lady Vols a 48-43 edge with 48.8 seconds left.
“That was an interesting 3-ball,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “The thing about Alexis is she wants it so much.”
Hornbuckle and Bobbitt each hit two free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
Top-seeded Tennessee advances to the Final Four for the sixth time in the past seven seasons, where it will face Southeastern Conference rival LSU. The teams split their two meetings this season. The Lady Tigers beat Tennessee during the regular season, but lost in the SEC tournament championship game.
The Lady Vols are seeking their eighth national championship, and their second straight.
The best season ever in Texas A&M history concluded with another rugged defensive performance. The second-seeded Aggies held Tennessee to its lowest point total of the season.
Starks scored 12 to lead Texas A&M, A’Quonesia Franklin had 11 and Danielle Gant finished with 10.
Hornbuckle added 14 points for the Lady Vols.
Parker left for the first time after dislocating the shoulder with 3:50 left in the first half. After making a steal, she curled off to the side on the fast break and stopped. She hobbled toward the Tennessee bench, and was met by a trainer who helped her to the locker room.
She returned to the game less than a minute later, but re-injured the shoulder before halftime and wasn’t able to join her team at the start of the second half.
After getting the shoulder wrapped, she returned to the bench and checked in with the score tied at 36.
“It popped out twice,” Parker said. “I was happy I was able to get back. I owe it all to (trainer) Jenny Moshak and our great training staff.”
Parker had scored all 16 of Tennessee’s points in one stretch before leaving for the first time, but A&M was able to stay in it with uncharacteristically strong 3-point shooting.
The Aggies started out 5-for-7 from 3-point range before missing 11 of their last 12.
Oklahoma City All-Region Team
MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER: Candace Parker, Tennessee
MEMBER: A'Quonesia Franklin, Texas A&M
MEMBER: Takia Starks, Texas A&M
MEMBER: Alexis Hornbuckle, Tennessee
MEMBER: Chante Black, Duke