A Tennessee Two Step??

By David Climer
Updated: March 10, 2008

TENNESSEE — If the events of Sunday evening are any indication, this could be quite a victory tour for Candace Parker.

After carrying Tennessee past LSU 61-55 in the final of the SEC Women’s Tournament, Parker has helped position the Lady Vols as a legitimate threat to defend their national championship.

“Honestly, the postseason is what I play for and what our team plays for,” Parker said. It shows. Parker elevated her game and the rest of the Lady Vols followed suit as UT avenged a regular-season loss to LSU.

For the Lady Vols in general and Parker in particular, anything less than a second straight national title is unacceptable. Since announcing on Feb. 20 that she would forgo her senior season in order to enter the WNBA Draft, Parker has fixated on a repeat.

This, then, was a step in the right direction. The SEC Tournament title virtually assures UT of a No. 1 regional seed.

“This is a completely different team than we were in the regular season,” Parker said. “We played for the postseason and now we’re here. … We have each others’ backs, pulling through tough times.”

Too, this is the kind of game that will help prepare the Lady Vols for what lies ahead in the NCAA Tournament bracket. LSU is as tough an out as they’ll face this side of UConn.

“If Tennessee’s good enough to win a national championship, then we are too,” LSU Coach Van Chancellor said. “… I don’t see much difference in the two teams.”

On Sunday, the difference was Parker. From start to finish, you got the distinct impression that Parker was taking things personally. Why? It did not go unnoticed that LSU center Sylvia Fowles had been selected SEC Player of the Year by the league’s coaches.

“Obviously, that gives you a little bit of motivation and incentive to play harder,” Parker said. Anybody want a recount?

By scoring 28 points and playing splendidly on both ends of the court, Parker one-upped Fowles, who managed just one of her 19 points in the final five minutes.

“She’s going to bang. She’s going to get her points,” Fowles said of Parker. “You can’t stop her. You can only hope to slow her down.”

Parker was at her best at crunch time. She nailed a 12-footer from the left side as the shot clock evaporated to push the Lady Vols ahead for good at 56-54 with 1:57 left.

“The shot clock’s down and they’re in disarray,” Chancellor said. “They just throw it to her and she makes a play.

“I thought that was the difference in the game.” Parker’s explanation: “I pump-faked and got a nice look.” Gee, it all sounds so simple.

That’s the thing that stands out about Parker’s game. At 6-foot-4, she plays with skill and grace. She is equally at ease handling the ball on the perimeter or posting up for power moves at point-blank range.

And now, with her college career at a one-and-done crossroads, Parker is focused on the grand prize. “This is the SEC championship,” she said, “and we have bigger fish to fry.”

Sounds like a recipe for success.