LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Candace Parker scored 23 points and No. 2 Tennessee weathered a sloppy start to pull away from Kentucky 65-40 Thursday night.
It didn't look good early, but things were business as usual in the end for the defending national champion Lady Vols (15-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference). Same goes for Parker, who Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell calls the best female player in the country -- college or pros.
Parker made 10 of 14 shots, one below her season-high for baskets in a game. Twice, she put up a highlight-reel left-handed hook shot that the Wildcats' defenders could only watch sail through the net.
The Lady Vols scored just 27 points in the first half -- their lowest total of the season -- but never trailed, largely because Kentucky's shooters were worse.
he Wildcats (8-9, 2-1) connected on 9-of-23 shots in the half, and six of the misses were airballs.
The Wildcats didn't get on the scoreboard until nearly six minutes into the game on a contested layup by Catina Bett. By then, Tennessee had built an 8-0 lead.
Kentucky pulled to within 11-9 with 9:30 left in the half after consecutive driving layups by Amber Smith, but the Lady Vols scored the next six points to pad the lead.
The Wildcats did win the rebounding battle 36-28, welcoming back senior center Sarah Elliott, who had been questionable for the game with a left knee strain. Samantha Mahoney led Kentucky with 12 points.
Tennessee extended its streak to 318 consecutive games with a 3-pointer, albeit barely. The Lady Vols missed their first seven attempts from long range and didn't connect on their lone 3 until Angie Bjorklund made one with under four minutes left.
The last time these teams met in Lexington in 2006, the unranked Wildcats shocked the top-ranked Lady Vols 66-63 at Rupp Arena. Kentucky hasn't beaten Tennessee at Memorial Coliseum, the regular home for the women's team, since 1986.
Mitchell, the first coach to start 2-0 in the SEC in his inaugural season at Kentucky, was handed his first league defeat. Mitchell was a graduate assistant for Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt in 2000.
“Obviously we struggled a little bit in the first half. I thought Kentucky did a great job of dictating tempo early. Our board play wasn’t there tonight and we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well early. At halftime, we really just tried to adjust in terms of extending our defense more and playing at a faster tempo. We favor up-tempo and shot the ball better because we were able to quicken the tempo.”
On getting better shots in the second half…
“We got a lot of points in the paint. Obviously (Candace) Parker went to work and Alexis (Hornbuckle) did a great job of finishing. We tried to be more aggressive in the second half in both the open court and in the half court.”
On UK head coach Matthew Mitchell…
“I’ve know Matthew for a long time. He worked with me at Tennessee and is a great friend. We talk occasionally and I’m here for him if there is anything I can do except give him a basketball game. I thought his team played hard and he has to be proud of their intensity and effort. I want to see Matthew be successful here at Kentucky.”
On Kentucky’s defense in the first half…
“They played good defense on us and kept us off the glass. I’m not convinced that we were persistent in going to the boards hard. Sometimes we stand around and watch Candace Parker play and rebound. That’s something we have to give better effort.”
Tennessee Player Quotes
On Tennessee’s play in the second half…
“We came into the locker room pretty drained, and we didn’t have much energy. In the last two games we’ve played, our opponents have been able to slow the tempo down. We haven’t had many easy baskets off our defense. We wanted to get back out there in the second half and find some energy.”
On Coach Summitt’s intensity…
“She is very intense and I think what allows her to keep coaching like that is her passion for the game. It is great to have a legend as a coach, who helped put women’s basketball on the map and keep it where it is today. I count my blessings every day that I play for her.”
On the last time Tennessee played Kentucky in Lexington…
“Several of us remember watching them (Kentucky) celebrate after they beat us a couple years ago. We knew we could change that in the second half and we didn’t want to see them celebrating a win again.”