Injured Parker carries Tennessee past Texas A&M

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- With Tennessee's best player struggling to keep her arm in its socket, the fate of the women's basketball powerhouse depended on someone digging through laundry in the team bus.

Candace Parker's shoulder needed to be stabilized, and someone needed to find a sleeve to do the trick. Needless to say, college basketball's winningest coach was a little bit antsy.

"I'm about to have a fit as to why we don't have it right there," Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt said.

Once the sleeve was located and Parker put it on, Tennessee was back on track for the Final Four.

Parker dislocated her left shoulder, but still scored 26 points to lead the Lady Vols out of a second-half deficit for a 53-45 win over Texas A&M in the Oklahoma City Regional final Tuesday night.

She twice left the game in the first half with the injury and she didn't return until about halfway through the second half. She scored six of the Lady Vols' points in an 8-0 run as they overcame a 42-37 deficit.

"I was just going to play as hard as I could and not to think about my shoulder and my situation," Parker said. "I didn't want this to be the last time that we played together."

She scored only eight points in the second half, but it was enough to push the Lady Vols (34-2) ahead when combined with a sturdy defensive effort that kept Texas A&M (29-8) scoreless for a five-minute stretch.

The sleeve wasn't an immediate fix. Her first shot was an airball on a jumper from the foul line, and then couldn't convert a layup off a lob at the right block.

She turned a second alley-oop attempt into a successful layup, and that got the Lady Vols' run going. Shannon Bobbitt followed with two free throws, and Parker hit two of her own to put Tennessee ahead 43-42 with 3:44 to play. She went 1-for-2 on two successive trips to the foul line to stretch the lead to three.

After a free throw by the Aggies' Takia Starks, Parker lost the ball in the lane but was able to recover and pass to Alexis Hornbuckle for a deep 3-pointer that gave the Lady Vols a 48-43 edge with 48.8 seconds left.

Hornbuckle and Bobbitt each hit two free throws after that to seal the win, and Parker added another to cap her regional MVP performance.

"People, sometimes they see Candace as more of a finesse player but I think sometimes when you see finesse players, you don't realize just how mentally tough they are until you see them fight through the adversity that she fought through tonight," Summitt said.

Summitt can understand what Parker went through. She dislocated her shoulder recently -- although her injury occurred while she was trying to shoo a raccoon off her back porch. Not exactly the Final Four on the line.

"Let me tell you. It is very, very painful and I can't imagine the fact that she went through that twice tonight," Summitt said. "But obviously she's a lot stronger than coach Summitt and so she's got something to protect her a little bit better."

Top-seeded Tennessee advances to the Final Four for the sixth time in the past seven seasons, where it will face Southeastern Conference rival LSU. The teams split their two meetings this season. The Lady Tigers beat Tennessee during the regular season, but lost in the SEC tournament championship game.

The Lady Vols are seeking their eighth national championship, and their second straight.

The best season ever in Texas A&M history concluded with another rugged defensive performance. The second-seeded Aggies held Tennessee to its lowest point total of the season. Tennessee shot only 5-for-20 in the second half but scored half of its 24 points from the foul line while holding the Aggies to 22 percent shooting (6-for-27).

Starks scored 12 to lead Texas A&M, A'Quonesia Franklin had 11 and Danielle Gant finished with 10. Gant's layup with 6:17 left put A&M up 42-37, but the Aggies then went 0-for-4 from the field and Franklin missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the foul line as Tennessee pulled ahead.

"If the defense takes away your options, you've got to be creative enough to score off the dribble," Aggies coach Gary Blair said.

Hornbuckle added 14 points for the Lady Vols.

Parker had scored the Lady Vols' last 16 points when she left for the first time with 3:50 left in the first half. After making a steal, she curled off to the side on the fast break and stopped with her arm dangling lifelessly. She hobbled toward the Tennessee bench, and was met by a trainer who helped her to the locker room.

"Parker is Parker and we did as well as we could," Blair said. "And I thought she showed a lot of effort playing with that shoulder of hers because I know she was in a lot of pain. But we were in a lot of pain trying to guard her too."

She returned to the game less than a minute later, but re-injured the shoulder before halftime and wasn't able to join her team at the start of the second half. She returned to the bench and checked in with the score tied at 36 and 10:39 remaining.

"I just really want to reiterate how proud I am of my team," Parker said. "They really held it down. Obviously our shots weren't falling, but defensively that's something that we brought to this tournament, that's something that we needed, and that's the reason why we won."