Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Candace Parker and Tennessee Overcome UConn in Hartford

by Erin Semagin Damio

I'd like to preface this article by saying that I did grow up in Storrs. I did go to high school on the UConn campus, and occasionally ran into Huskies while I was doing research at the UConn Library, or eating at a cafe on campus. In other words, I was raised in the epicenter of the Connecticut women's basketball mania, and I am a Huskies fan.

That said, Saturday's game was one of the best basketball games I've seen in a long time, regardless of the outcome. If you didn't see it, and you have the chance, I'd highly recommend it. Tremendous effort by both teams, and all the players, who really left it all out on the court. Also, the fans in the Hartford Civic Center were excellent. It's great to remember what it was like when all the games sold out. It was nice to see the Tennessee fans who drove or flew up to support their team (and they didn't even have to deal with cold weather!).

The point of the first paragraph was simply that I have tried very hard to look at this game objectively, and I think succeeded for the most part (though certainly not to the extent that Mel, who lives in between the schools and is friends with both coaches, would). Behind that objectivity though, I'll always be from Connecticut, and I just want readers to be aware of that.

Hartford, Conn. – When Connecticut and Tennessee played each other on January 4, 2003, in Hartford, Tennessee had an eight-point lead with five minutes to play.

Tennessee had led for most of the second half, expanding their lead, and their eight points should have been solid, but Diana Taurasi fueled a Huskies run, hitting a three-pointer to send the game into overtime, and a jumper to win the game.

This time, there was no Diana Taurasi. There was Candace Parker.

The redshirt sophomore had 30 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks, 4 assists, and a steal, playing all 40 minutes to give Tennessee a 70-64 victory over Connecticut in Hartford this past Saturday.

The Huskies didn’t seem to be operating on all cylinders. Only Charde Houston (23 points, 8 rebounds) scored in double figures for UConn, and leading scorer Renee Montgomery shot 2-11, finishing the game with 4 points.

Tennessee was operating on Parker’s cylinder. Outside of Parker, the Lady Vols scored just 40 points, and only Sidney Spencer (14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals) joined Parker in double figures.

“As the game went on, she just got better and better,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said about Parker, “and she’s better under pressure. To have a go-to player like Candace opens up other players.”

Of course, the play of the game that got replays on CBS and ESPN -- that those who don’t follow women’s basketball, and don’t know that the UConn-Tennessee game is THE game will remember -- was the sixth dunk of Candace Parker’s college career.

Parker, who is 6’4” and touted as able to play every position, is certainly one of the most athletic women playing college basketball, and the only current college player to dunk a basketball in a game. Before Saturday, she hadn’t dunked against a highly ranked opponent or on national television.

Just under two minutes into the second half, Spencer stole the ball and passed it to Parker, who sprinted down the court. Wide open, indeed, the only player on that half of the floor, she went for the dunk.

“I had a chance to dunk on Connecticut’s court, and I did,” Parker said after the game.

Without a doubt, Parker is one of the most skilled basketball players in the country, and the dunk, though it might be exciting to watch, is the tip of the iceberg. Ironically, her dunk in this basketball game actually backfired against Tennessee, sparking a Connecticut run that closed an eighteen-point deficit to tie the game with about five minutes remaining. It was Parker’s blocking ability and strong post play that won out in the end.

The dunk put Tennessee ahead by 16, and a Nicky Anosike layup on the next possession increased the lead to eighteen. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma put juniors Ketia Swanier and Brittany Hunter into the game, two players that had just gotten angrier watching Parker’s dunk and Tennessee’s run from the sidelines.

“Of course I was mad,” Hunter said. “It shouldn’t take that, however, to get anyone going.”

Hunter, who is playing on an almost entirely reconstructed knee, hadn’t played for two weeks before Saturday due to swelling in her knee, but she stepped up as the primary defender on Parker during Connecticut’s second-half run.

Hunter’s defense and Charde Houston’s offense combined to take over the game for a few minutes, almost getting it back.

Like Taurasi, who went 7-1 against the Lady Vols in her four years at UConn, Hunter and Houston hate to lose. They played their way out of an 18-point deficit and showed that they could play with the best in the country, but ultimately, they were outplayed.

Connecticut will have the chance to bounce back. Tonight the Huskies play Seton Hall at 7:30, and if this team hates to lose as much as Taurasi-era teams, Seton Hall should prepare for a vengeful game from the Huskies.

In a week, Connecticut will face another test, when they play undefeated North Carolina in North Carolina. If Tennessee got the jitters of the first big game out of the freshmen’s systems -- and some bad basketball out of the team’s -- it should be an interesting game.

Taurasi herself, after all, thinks that this Huskies team is capable of a lot. When she was at Gampel Pavilion December 21, getting honored with a banner on the wall as one of 10 first-team All-Americans that had played at Connecticut, Taurasi called this team out. She asked Houston to represent California (Taurasi is from Chino, Houston from San Diego), and get another banner added as a first-team All-American. Taurasi’s next vision was a broader team goal.

“We’ve been coming back the last two or three years, and we’re getting tired of seeing the same banners,” Taurasi said, looking at the five National Championship banners hanging in the middle of one wall. “Hopefully this year we can add another special one. I’m looking at the space at center court.”

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both Candace Parker and Charde Houston are elite players. And if Brittany Hunter's knee was 100% she would be in that class too!
This was a wake up call to the young players on the UConn team .They've been out of sync the past 4 or 5 games or so-starting out slow, and their perimeter shooting has been off.You can't do that against the top echelon teams.
I have a feeling this will be a positive learning experience for UConn.

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Anonymous Krissy said...

This was one of the best performances py Parker in her college career.

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