- Melanie Jackson, Women's Basketball
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee fans can breathe easy now that Candace Parker is breathing easier, too.
The Tennessee sophomore missed the first game of her career Thursday after being sidelined with a respiratory illness, but is expected to play when the No. 4 Lady Vols (17-1) host top-ranked and undefeated Duke (19-0) on Monday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).
"She had a lot of congestion, was having a hard time breathing," Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt said. "She wanted to get back on the court the next day and has had good preparation."
Parker, who is taking antibiotics, has worked out the past few days and said she was fine after putting in a full practice Saturday.
Summitt wasn't concerned.
"I don't even worry about Candace getting ready for big games; I worry about the games that aren't as big, whether she's going to bring that same intensity level," Summitt said. "She's a big-game player She'll be ready."
Duke is expecting nothing but the best out of Parker, largely regarded as the most complete player in women's college basketball today.
"No one's going to stop Candace, but we'll try to at least limit her touches," Duke senior point guard Lindsey Harding said, adding that sophomore Carrem Gay will start out defending Parker.
Gay, an athletic 6-foot-2 sophomore forward from New York's Christ The King, has come on strong and is perhaps helping Duke overcome the absence of 6-5 center Chante Black, who has been sidelined all season with a knee injury. Averaging a team-best 7.6 rebounds over the last six games and scoring in double digits in six out of the last nine, Gay has started all 19 games.
That's quite an improvement over last season, when a shoulder injury limited her all year. But now, after offseason surgery to repair a sublexing shoulder, Gay is one of the most improved players in the ACC, owns a team-best three double-doubles on the season and has increased her scoring by six points and her rebounding by 4.4 boards per game since her freshman campaign.
"Carrem is probably our most athletic post," Duke's 6-7 senior center, Alison Bales, said. "She stepped up early this season, not just with her offensive output, but her defense is really good. She can defend a lot of post players and can run the floor against anyone."
She'll get the chance. Making sure Parker -- who is averaging 19.7 points and 8.7 rebounds -- remains on the move is key.
"We try to move her a lot, and I think that's really helped her get open looks in her face-up game, the post-up game, also get her in the high-low action so she can put the ball on the floor," Summitt said. "We're seeing a lot of zone, so they can double-team on her, so it's important that we move her regardless of what defensive schemes we face. We've got to keep her moving and get a lot of touches."
And rebound, of course.
"We've got to control the boards against [Duke]," Summitt added. "If we can't work the offensive and defensive boards, it's just going to open things up for them."
Rolling back to the last meeting
Tennessee fans likely haven't forgotten the taunting the Cameron Crazies student section put on junior guard Alexis Hornbuckle last season in Durham, N.C. Numerous students waved empty Wal-Mart bags and chanted the company's catch phrases like "Rollback prices!"
The Duke fans were referring to Hornbuckle getting arrested for misdemeanor shoplifting as a high school senior at a Wal-Mart back home in West Virginia. As ESPN.com columnist Mechelle Voepel wrote at the time, "Hornbuckle was sincerely contrite and embarrassed" for what appeared to be "just a senior-year prank thing. The case was resolved with community service and a fine."
Hornbuckle said the crowd "didn't influence" Tennessee at all, which Voepel deemed "preposterous." The Blue Devils made 15 steals.
Voepel also wrote: "Mocking someone's troubles isn't the classiest thing to do -- but it showed that Duke's students were treating the opposing team just like they would for their beloved men's program. And love or hate the Crazies, anytime you have this kind of atmosphere for a women's game, it's something special."
A year later, Summitt doesn't see it that way.
"First of all, I thought that it was really unfortunate that any player was put in that position," Summitt said Friday while addressing the media. "I was very upset after that game. To me, there's no place for it. But you can't control how fans and students react, but you can control how you handle it."
How will Hornbuckle respond Monday? She hasn't shot particularly well in Tennessee's marquee nonconference matchups this season. Hornbuckle was 2-for-10 against UConn and 1-for-7 against North Carolina.
No advance sellout -- yet
As of Saturday afternoon, about 17,000 tickets had been sold for Monday's game, and officials expected the number to increase.
"We think it's going to pick up because of the forecast change," Debby Jennings, Tennessee's associate athletics director for media relations, said, referring to icy conditions that had been predicted for Monday but are now expected to hit Knoxville later in the week.
In the only previous meeting at Thompson-Boling Arena on Dec. 2, 2004, then-No. 10 Duke beat then-fourth-ranked Tennessee to become (at the time) just the seventh team to beat the Lady Vols at TBA since it opened in 1987. The attendance for that meeting is listed at 11,459.
The official seating capacity of Thompson-Boling is 24,535.
The Blue Devils have won 32 consecutive games against nonconference opponents, second only to UNC's 33 straight wins over nonleague foes. Tennessee and Duke are ranked first and second, respectively, in the NCAA RPI. The teams have split the eight-game series, with Duke winning two straight. The Blue Devils are 6-0 this season against ranked opponents; Tennessee is 7-1. Alison Bales has blocked more shots (91) than Duke's opponents (65). Tennessee's Sidney Spencer leads the nation with 51.9 3-point field goal percentage.
Melanie Jackson is the women's basketball editor at ESPN.com.
Tennessee fans can breathe easy now that Candace Parker is breathing easier, too. The Lady Vols sophomore is expected to play Monday against Duke despite missing Thursday's game with a respiratory illness.