Parker helps No. 3 Tennessee cruise past Kentucky

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee welcomed back a former assistant coach and members of its first national championship team with a win typical of many in the Lady Vols' history.

Candace Parker scored 22 of her 31 points in the first half and third-ranked Tennessee cruised to an 84-62 win over Kentucky on Sunday.

The Lady Vols (23-2, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) honored members of its 1987 team that won the school's first national championship and other former players at halftime.

Kentucky coach Mickie DeMoss was an assistant to coach Pat Summitt for 18 years, including the 1987 season, but her reunion was not as fun.

"This was a great weekend," Summitt said. "Every player on our '87 championship team managed to find a way back for this. That was special. Everyone here was proud for the '87 group. They have the bragging rights, and we heard a lot about it."

The Wildcats (16-10, 5-6) provided even more motivation for the Lady Vols after beating then-No. 1 Tennessee 66-63 last year in Lexington to end a 24-game losing streak in the series. The Lady Vols didn't give Kentucky a chance to repeat, grabbing a lead from the beginning with a tough full-court press.

"I thought our basketball team started strong. I thought Candace Parker really established her inside game, and just her aggressive play set the tone on the offensive end," Summitt said.

Sidney Spencer and Shannon Bobbitt each scored 12 points, and Alex Fuller had 11 for Tennessee.

Sarah Elliott led Kentucky with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Jennifer Humphrey added 15 after getting into foul trouble in the first half.

"It's a little rough sitting on that other side," DeMoss said. "I thought their defense looked really good tonight. Their full-court defense is something we had trouble with in the first half. We turned the ball over too much, and they converted those turnovers into easy baskets."

DeMoss was introduced with the other players on the 1987 team before the game.

"It's just amazing it was 20 years ago," DeMoss said. "It was really good seeing all the former players back, and it was a really special title because it was the first."

The current Tennessee players cheered during the introductions.

"Tradition is very important to this program. They have left a legacy that we've grown up watching and that we wanted to follow," Spencer said. "Getting to see that and be in the presence of champions was really awesome."

The Lady Vols built a lead early and went ahead 25-13 when a pass bounced off a Kentucky player near midcourt and Parker got it and scored with 9:08 left before halftime.

Tennessee increased its lead to 25 with a 12-0 run late in the first half. Parker scored six points during the spurt, and Cait McMahan's driving layup with 49.6 seconds remaining put the Lady Vols up 46-21.

Tennessee expanded its lead to 30 early in the second half on Bobbitt's 3 with 17:05 left.

Parker was 12-of-16 from the floor and 7-of-8 at the foul line. She also had nine rebounds. Her night appeared over early in the second half when she went to the bench and put on her warmups.

But Kentucky rallied to pull within 22 with 9:11 remaining and Summitt put Parker back in the game. Parker fouled Humphrey, who converted a three-point play that trimmed it to 68-49.

Parker tipped in a miss on Tennessee's next possession to push the lead back over 20 and went back to the bench for good a few minutes later.

"It's winding down. We're getting closer to the postseason. We just have to come into the game with the mindset of being strong on the defensive and offensive ends," Parker said.

Tennessee pressed in the first half and Kentucky was harassed into 16 turnovers. The Wildcats finished with 25.

Despite the lopsided score, Kentucky outrebounded Tennessee 40-24.

Kentucky's win over the Lady Vols last year helped the Wildcats have one of their best seasons. They finished with 22 wins, the most in 16 seasons, and went to the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years as a No. 5 seed.

"All we did at the very beginning of the game was say 'This isn't last year,' and left it at that, and we knew we needed to bring energy," said Tennessee's Alexis Hornbuckle, who had four steals and seven assists.

Tennessee has won at least 10 SEC games for the 10th straight season since going 8-4 in the league in 1996-97. The Lady Vols are the only undefeated team in SEC play.