- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Maybe it was a sign of things to come or maybe it was just an innocuous mistake from a local editor worn down by years of arranging vowels in the names of current and former Tampa Bay Lightning players like Vincent Lecavalier and Nikolai Khabibulin, the regular inhabitants of the St. Pete Times Forum.
But the official game program for Thursday's ESPNU Invitational and the most anticipated individual showdown in the last few seasons listed Tennessee's star as "Candice Parker."
So while Candace Parker and Courtney Paris certainly did their parts in posting gaudy numbers and showcasing unparalleled moves on the court, maybe this night just wasn't meant to be solely about a heavily hyped, make-it, take-it driveway duel between the two faces of women's college basketball, as Duke's Abby Waner, one of their peers, described them after the evening's first game.
"The fans got a chance to see two icons in the sport of women's basketball go head to head on the same floor," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said before she added the other part of the equation.
"It was a pretty good basketball game for the second week of the season."
For all of Parker's brilliance on a night she finished with 28 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and four steals, the smallest player on the court -- a player even members of her own coaching staff once thought was too small to play at Tennessee -- played a role equal to Parker in ensuring the top-ranked Lady Volunteers survived with an 70-67 win against the No. 8 Sooners that trumped even the headlining duo's duel.
And for Bobbitt, stealing the spotlight is getting to be something of a habit.
"I just took what the defense gave me," said the 5-foot-2 Bobbitt. "They definitely crowded Candace, and that's what I like. Candace did a great job of finding me and I just had to knock down the shots."
Just as Bobbitt did in last season's national title game against Rutgers, when she hit four 3-pointers that helped break the underdog's back in the second half, the diminutive point guard with a sniper's mentality took aim at an opponent that if not unwilling was at least unable to commit extra defenders to stopping the outside barrage. Bobbitt scored 22 of her 27 points in the second half, including five 3-pointers after the break.
"They were guarding Candace with a player and a half and just really trying to take away our paint passes and points," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "And Shannon just recognized it. I thought we managed to kick out and give her a lot of good looks and she just knocked down shots."
The Sooners were in foul trouble almost from the outset. Ashley Paris and Amanda Thompson alternately tried to check Parker, and got plenty of help from Courtney Paris (who finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds despite the foul trouble). But Oklahoma had little choice but to concede some outside looks in an effort to corral Parker. Unfortunately for Coale's team, too many of those looks ended up in Bobbitt's hands.
Ironically, Tennessee's smallest player made the Sooners pay dearly for being at an overall size disadvantage against the defending champions.
"We just give up too many inches," Coale said. "What we tried to do was very effective until Bobbitt got hot. She made some tough 3s."
And when the Sooners first pulled even and then seized a late lead with a stirring rally after Bobbitt's final trey extended the lead to eight points with five minutes to play, it was the point guard who chased down a loose ball in the closing seconds and earned a jump ball that gave the Lady Vols possession. And it was Bobbitt who converted the free throws with one second remaining that provided the final margin of victory.
Tough, as Coale put it, is an apt adjective for more than just Bobbitt's shot selection given her circuitous route to Knoxville. After Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood transferred during the 2005-06 season, and emergency point Shanna Zolman graduated after that season, Tennessee needed a point guard. Summitt went a route she has rarely traveled in plucking Bobbitt, a Manhattan native, from Trinity Valley Junior College in Texas.
At the Final Four last April, longtime Tennessee assistant Holly Warlick, herself a great point guard earlier in Summitt's reign, recalled initial concerns about whether a player of Bobbitt's stature could hold up in and execute Tennessee's offensive and defensive systems. But Summitt liked what she saw right away, even if it had little to do with the outside touch that now makes Bobbitt so dangerous.
"When I saw her on tape, I liked her a lot," Summitt recalled. "I saw her on tape actually scrimmaging against football guys. And I thought she could beat those guys off the dribble and I was really impressed with her. But I wanted to see her in person, so I went down to the junior-college tournament and got to see her. She didn't shoot the ball well that night, but everything else I loved about her game.
"And I will tell you, size has not been a real factor, especially when you have size in the front line in behind her. She's a great competitor, brings a lot to our basketball team and our program."
Bobbitt, who is hardly averse to jawing with an opponent, posing for the crowd after a big shot and expelling every ounce of air from her lungs in triumphant bellows, put on a show in the second half of Thursday's game. And if it wasn't necessarily the show most anticipated for "Candace vs. Courtney," it was as important as Parker's brilliance in assessing Tennessee's ability to return to Tampa in a few months for the Final Four.
"Obviously the [fans] got their money's worth and got to see a great game between Oklahoma and Tennessee," Summitt said.
And who knows, by April, Candace might even get a second 'A' for her name in the program to go with a second national championship.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
14dBonnie D. Ford