Lady Vols Overcome ‘Disrespect’

By David White
Updated: April 9, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. — Last time Tennessee checked, the Lady Vols were the team with the winningest coach of women’s basketball in Pat Summitt, and the best player in Candace Parker, and the fancy title as defending national champions.

So what did they do with this surplus of hyperbole? What great championship teams do best at the first whiff of disrespect: They flashed the underdog card.

“I like that most people were picking Stanford to win this game,” said Summitt, who apparently caught all those pro-Stanford picks on ESPN before tip-off. “It really motivated our team.

“I said we were going to go in as underdogs and come out as top dogs.”

That the Lady Vols did, for a record eighth time, with a 64-48 victory over the second-seeded Cardinal in Tuesday’s national final at St. Pete Times Forum.

The Lady Vols shrink-wrapped Stanford’s offense to the point of suffocation. They took unmitigated joy in all 25 turnovers forced and 13 steals nabbed.

When all was done — and this was done well in advance of the final buzzer — the Lady Vols jumped to “Rocky Top” on a confetti dance floor in their oversize championship T-shirts. They didn’t leave until the nets were severed from the rim.

Then, with two-peat fingers raised, they made sure to tell everybody that they told them so.

“It’s been our motivation all year,” said Parker, who was head-and-dislocated shoulder above all others as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

“Somehow, after winning a national championship, not living up to expectations and being criticized for not playing a 40-minute game. It fueled our fire.”

Stanford is partially to blame for the perceived slight. The Cardinal beat Tennessee 73-69 on Dec. 22 to puncture the orange armor.

This proved fine to Tennessee. Added motivation always comes in handy this time of year.

“That loss was good for us,” said 5-foot-2 point guard Shannon Bobbitt, who had three three-pointers and 13 points. “We knew we couldn’t take them for granted again. We had to get in their face and play hard-nosed defense.”

By “hard-nosed,” she meant applying a fullcourt press, sending all applicable hands and legs into the passing lanes and out-leaping the black jerseys to missed shots.

Parker had four steals despite an injured shoulder. Center Nicky Anosike had six steals. In all, they circled the wagons until Stanford spit out 25 turnovers, which was one botch short of tying the finals record.

“A lot of people underestimate our defense,” Parker said. “When you get on the court with us, it’s a little bit different than what you see on TV. We knew our fullcourt press would really bother them.”

It did, because the Lady Vols were too big, too fast and much too fierce for the Cardinal. If Tennessee played like this the first time, it would not have lost at Maples Pavilion – and Stanford knew it.

“It was frustrating,” Cardinal guard JJ Hones said. “We don’t have the personnel to even attempt to practice for it.”

So convincing was Tennessee’s command, and so relentless was its pressure, Summitt went to her eat-the-clock offense with a 12-point lead and six minutes to play.

That’s right. She knew full well her team wouldn’t gag like Memphis did in Monday’s men’s final.

“It would be over my dead body before we walked out of here with a loss,” Anosike said. “If we lost, I was going to live here because I wasn’t going home without a championship.”