Tennessee stops Vanderbilt to set up rematch with LSU

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Lady Vols have a chance to show how much they've improved since being humiliated by LSU.

Candace Parker scored 17 of her 25 points in the first half as the No. 3 Lady Vols advanced for a shot at their third Southeastern Conference tournament title in four years by beating instate rival Vanderbilt 63-48 on Saturday night.

The victory gives the Lady Vols (29-2) a rematch Sunday night against the last team to beat them: LSU, a 66-49 winner over Kentucky in the other semifinal. LSU (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) won the SEC regular-season title by routing Tennessee 78-62 in Knoxville on Feb. 14.

"They beat us on our home floor and they won the SEC championship outright, so obviously we have incentive going in," Parker said. "It's going to come down ... to defense and rebounding and playing a 40-minute game. I think we're a completely different team than we were when we played them. I think we're going to play with energy and play for 40 minutes."

Senior center Nicky Anosike said the key lesson was not slacking up with a big lead.

"You have to keep fighting and pushing, and the defense still has to be there," she said.

Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt said the LSU loss was a wake-up call for her team. They have won five straight since that loss, which prompted a meeting between coaches and players and a players' only session. She believes the Lady Vols realized they had been playing in spurts since winning the national championship last season.

"They really had no one to blame but themselves," Summitt said.

"That's when they took ownership. I told them, 'We've gotten away with being a team that just played in spurts and played the scoreboard instead of playing the game with great passion for 40 minutes.' I said, 'If you're going to be a championship-caliber team, you've got to do it.'"

Tennessee, which already has 12 SEC tournament championships, will be making its 18th appearance in the title game after knocking off the defending champion. Vanderbilt (23-8) lost for the first time in nine games after winning the 2002 and 2004 titles here at the Sommet Center, only a mile from its own gym.

It hasn't mattered where the Commodores (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) play the Lady Vols. Vanderbilt, whose five tournament titles are more than any other SEC school but the Tennessee, had been trying to win for the fourth time in seven years.

"We've played them harder every time we've played them this year, and ... I'm proud of how much we've improved as a team," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said.

The Commodores couldn't sustain a hot start that had them leading by 10 and wound up losing a 15th straight game in this series and the 46th in 62 games.

Alexis Hornbuckle added 14 points for Tennessee.

Jennifer Risper led Vanderbilt with 14 points and nine rebounds. Christina Wirth, the Commodores' leading scorer with 13.1 points, was held to seven.

"We're young," Wirth said, "we're getting better all year long."

It was a defensive struggle between the SEC's top two scoring teams, especially in the second half. Tennessee hit only six of 27 field goals against Vanderbilt, which is second only to LSU in scoring defense. But the Lady Vols held Vanderbilt to a season-low in points and its worst 3-point shooting performance of the season (2-of-17).

"We held them to 26 points in the second half," Balcomb said. "This is a team that scores 80 and 90 a night. I think that was definitely a big part of our game plan and was successful."

The Commodores got within 39-33 on a 3-pointer by Wirth in the opening minutes of the second half. Anosike scored a three-point play, Risper picked up her third foul and went to the bench. Alberta Auguste put back a miss, and Alex Fuller hit a 3 with 13:33 left for a 47-35 lead that never dipped back into single digits again.

Parker hit four free throws, and Hornbuckle added a jumper midway through the second half for the Lady Vols' biggest lead at 53-35.

Vanderbilt, which struggled to score points in its 49-44 quarterfinal win over Auburn on Friday night, opened with intensity against Tennessee. The Commodores hit five of their first eight shots, and Risper's putback with 14:29 to go gave Vandy a 14-4 lead. They matched that at 18-8 on a layup by Jence Rhoads.

The Lady Vols, who hit only two of their first seven shots, settled down and got to work. Parker scored six points, and Hornbuckle and Bobbitt each hit a 3 in a 23-4 spurt that put Tennessee up 31-22 with 4:43 left. When Parker hit a 3 from the top of the key, that put the Lady Vols up by seven on the way to a 37-28 halftime margin.