Friday, January 3, 2014
No. 16 LSU stuns fifth-ranked Tennessee
By Mechelle Voepel
A whole lot was going on Thursday as conference play began for several teams and some disturbing WNBA news broke. One night is still just one night in a long basketball season, but this was an interesting one on many fronts.
We'll start in Knoxville, Tenn., where Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick no doubt was feeling agitated before No. 5 Tennessee's game with No. 16 LSU. Warlick doesn't like to go against LSU coach Nikki Caldwell, the former Tennessee player and assistant. Warlick and Caldwell have been such good friends for so long, it just doesn't feel comfortable for either one when their teams face off.
Danielle Ballard's 25 points helped lead No. 16 LSU past No. 5 Knoxville.
But they're both in the SEC, so there's nothing to be done but endure it. And there was also something else going on: Tennessee was retiring the jersey of Candace Parker, who led the team to NCAA titles in 2007 and '08.
So there was a lot swirling around in the Thompson-Boling Arena atmosphere Thursday, and it didn't end up being a good mix for the hosts. Tennessee staged a furious rally late, but it wasn't enough as LSU pulled the upset, 80-77, led by Danielle Ballard's 25 points.
Parker's second-to-last game playing for Tennessee -- the 2008 national semifinals -- was against LSU, and the Lady Vols' got the buzzer-beating victory, 47-46. Then Parker and her fellow seniors spurred Tennessee to the NCAA title against Stanford.
Next, Parker was taken first in the WNBA draft by the Los Angeles Sparks, for whom she won the league's MVP and rookie of the year award later in 2008. But Parker hasn't gotten a league title in her sometimes injury-plagued WNBA career, and the Sparks' future in Los Angeles is now up for speculation.
It was reported Thursday that the team's ownership group is relinquishing the franchise, a move that seemed to take everyone by surprise. As we wait to see the resolution of what might happen with the Sparks, you have to wonder what it might mean for the WNBA future of Parker, who was the league's MVP this past season.
As for the Lady Vols' future in 2014, this is certainly not the way they wanted to get started in SEC play. It's only one game, but the way they allowed LSU to dictate play for a lot of the second half -- and Tennessee's 20 turnovers to LSU's 14 for the game -- have to be concerns for Warlick. Next up for Tennessee is a trip to Georgia on Sunday.
Candace Parker is the sixth Lady Volunteer to have her jersey retired.
As for LSU, its losses have been to Louisville and NC State. This was a key win on the road, especially being able to withstand Tennessee’s late run.
• Big 12 first look: The league's two undefeated teams, No. 11 Oklahoma State and No. 14 Iowa State, stayed that way with victories over Texas and TCU, respectively. Tiffany Bias had 23 points and six assists for the Cowgirls in their 67-61 triumph over the Longhorns in Stillwater, Okla. Nicole "Kidd" Blaskowsky came off the bench for 24 points and nine rebounds for the Cyclones, who crushed the Horned Frogs 71-49 in Fort Worth, Texas.
We're a little over a week away from the Oklahoma State-Iowa State showdown, which is in Ames, Iowa, on Jan. 11. Between now and then, the Cowgirls still have to face West Virginia and Kansas State, while the Cyclones take on No. 25 Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
• Big Ten tip-off: Speaking of undefeated teams, Indiana remained so with its 86-84 upset win over No. 22 Iowa. But No. 17 Purdue lost its Big Ten opener, 89-78 at Ohio State.
And No. 18 Nebraska nearly fell victim to the upset bug, too, but held off Northwestern 66-65.