March 31, 2008
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)–Candace Parker matched her career best with 34 points and hauled in 12 rebounds, pushing the top-seeded Lady Vols to the regional finals for the eighth straight year with a 74-64 win against Notre Dame on Sunday night in the Oklahoma City Regional.
The 6-foot-3 All-American put back Nicky Anosike’s miss and then converted a three-point play off a transition jumper to send Tennessee into the lead with a 14-0 run early in the second half, and the Lady Vols never looked back on their way to the round of eight for the 23rd time.
“Honestly, in postseason, you’ve got to come through. That’s what great players do,” Parker said.
Shannon Bobbitt added a pair of 3-pointers as Tennessee built its lead to 60-44 before Notre Dame made a late rally.
The Lady Vols will face Texas A&M on Tuesday night in the regional final. Tennessee (33-2) is going for its 17th Final Four berth, while the Aggies are trying for their first.
For a while, Notre Dame (25-9) was able to stay in front of the Lady Vols even with Parker on a tear.
Parker scored Tennessee’s first eight points while her teammates combined to miss their first eight shots, and she had 19 by halftime. But the rest of the Lady Vols combined for only 12 in the first half, and Notre Dame led 33-31 at intermission.
It was only the third time this season the Lady Vols trailed at halftime, and they’d come back to win both times against Mississippi State and Georgia.
It was no different this time.
Notre Dame freshman Becca Bruszewski scored 16 to match the career-high she had in the first round against SMU and Charel Allen also had 16 for the Irish. Lindsay Schrader, Parker’s teammate on a grade school AAU team, added 13 points and Ashley Barlow scored 11.
Bobbitt finished with 11 and Anosike had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Vols.
Notre Dame led 37-33 after point guard Tulyah Gaines drove the lane for a layup in the opening minutes of the second half, but Parker then started getting some backup.
Four Lady Vols scored in the big run, and the Irish didn’t have an answer. It was the second time in three NCAA tournament games that Tennessee had to overcome a sluggish start.
“I don’t know what it is but we need to fix it,” Parker said.
This one at least ended up a little closer than most of McGraw’s encounters with the Lady Vols.
Tennessee won all 15 of the previous meetings by an average margin of 23 points, and only one of the games was decided by single digits. Behind seven 3-pointers from Angie Bjorklund, the Lady Vols shot 55 percent from 3-point range in scorching Notre Dame 87-63 on its home floor in January.
The Lady Vols were already up by double digits this time before Bjorklund connected on a 3 from the left wing to make it 55-42 with 11:12 remaining. Anosike then answered Schrader’s layup, and Bobbitt nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing to give Tennessee its biggest lead.
Bruszewski, pushed into more playing time by starter Erica Williamson’s foul trouble, tried to lead her team back but the Irish failed in their bid to reach the regional finals for the first time since their national championship run seven years ago.
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame was making its seventh NCAA Sweet 16 appearance, falling to 2-5 in those games, although the average margin of defeat in those five losses has been just 8.8 points per game (and only one decided by more than 10 points) … the Irish are 0-20 all-time against Tennessee, but Sunday’s 10-point margin was the closest for Notre Dame against the Lady Vols since Jan. 12, 1992, when UT pulled out an 85-82 win at the Joyce Center … Notre Dame led Tennessee at the half, 33-31, marking the first time in the 20-game series that the Irish have had the upper hand on the Lady Vols at the intermission … it also was the third time this season that UT trailed at halftime (also Feb. 7 at Mississippi State and March 2 at Georgia) … for only the second time in 18 games this season, Notre Dame lost when fielding at least four double-digit scorers (also an 81-64 loss at home to Connecticut on Jan. 27) … of the nine Irish losses this season, seven came to teams that were ranked in one or both polls at tipoff, with five coming to top-5 squads (Tennessee – 2; Maryland, Connecticut and Rutgers) … Notre Dame set a new school record by forcing 737 turnovers this season, topping the old mark of 731 that was established in 1996-97 (during a 38-game Final Four season) … the Irish also tied the school record with 397 steals this year, matching the total first set in 1990-91 … for the second time in three NCAA tournament games, freshman forward Becca Bruszewski set a career scoring high with 16 points, matching the total she had in the first-round win over SMU on March 23 in West Lafayette, Ind. … also for the second time in three NCAA tournament games this year, junior guard Lindsay Schrader just missed a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds (she had 12 and 9 in the opening-round win over SMU) … senior guard Charel Allen closed out her brilliant career with 1,566 points, good for eighth on the school’s all-time list, and she stands as the only Irish women’s basketball player ever to amass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals in her career.