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Lady Vols' Parker, Spencer slow down Walker, handle Pitt

PITTSBURGH -- When Pittsburgh assistant coach Shea Ralph assembled a scouting tape on Tennessee, head coach Agnus Berenato took one look at it and tossed it away. The tape was nothing but a series of Candace Parker highlights.

Turned out the game was, too.

Parker wore out persistent Pittsburgh at both ends of the court with 30 points, 12 rebounds and a series of rally halting plays that carried the Lady Vols to a 68-54 tournament victory over Pitt on Tuesday night and the NCAA round of 16 for a 26th consecutive season.

Sidney Spencer helped Parker slow down Pitt's muscular Marcedes Walker and scored 11 points, and Nicky Anosike and Shannon Bobbitt added 10 points each as Tennessee remained the only team to reach the final 16 in every season of the tournament's 26-year history.

But if it hadn't been for Parker, the best player on the floor all night, that run might have stopped.

"Candace Parker is a special player," Berenato said. "When Shea showed me those clips, I said, `We can't let them see that. We can't let them see how good she is.' "

The game proved that. While the Panthers were a team the top-seeded Vols (30-3) should have beaten -- they were playing their 113th game in tournament history to Pitt's second -- the six-time champions rarely have played an early round game under such difficult circumstances. Pitt nearly filled its arena with fans for the Dayton Regional game, and the 6-foot-3, 257-pound Walker presented a difficult matchup problem.

To perhaps any player but Parker, the smooth and athletic star who had something to prove after being limited to four points in the Vols' 63-54 loss to LSU in the Southeastern Conference tournament on March 3. And she proved it, missing only three of her 16 shots and adding three assists and four blocks.

"I let my team down, my energy was missing [against LSU]," said the 6-4 Parker, a sophomore who averages nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds. "So whether it was rebounding or blocking shots, I had to have a presence. Whenever they made a run, I knew my team needed me and I had to demand the ball and demand attention, and I feel I did a good job of that."

Parker was everywhere -- dropping jumpers from the wings, gliding along the baseline for scoop shots or outworking the Panthers under the basket for putbacks. Every time eighth-seeded Pittsburgh (24-9) tried making a run, led by the physical Walker (19 points, 9 rebounds) and slick guard Shavonte Zellous (18 points), Parker halted it.

"Candace has great composure, and her progress from last year to this year is tremendous," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "Everyone realizes when we need a basket, Candace is a big-game player. We want her to have her hands on the ball because she can make plays under pressure."

The last threat came when Pitt, down by as many as 17, cut it to 54-45 with 8:17 remaining after Walker made three of four free throws on consecutive possessions. Parker immediately answered by scoring three consecutive baskets, halting the rally and pushing the lead back to a comfortable 15 at 60-45.

Pitt, a six-game winner only four seasons ago but surging under Berenato with a school record-best season, got back into the game by starting the second half with an 8-0 that made it 40-32. At that point, the Petersen Events Center was nearly as loud as it would have been for a Pitt men's game.

"When we made those runs and the crowd got behind us, it was electric," Berenato said.

Right about then, Zellous said she was thinking, "We have them on their heels."

But Parker, who Pitt never managed to slow, also halted this comeback by making two free throws and hitting a jump hook from the lane to push the Vols' lead back to 12.

Pitt, with far more fans in the stands than watched its 71-61 late-night victory over James Madison on Sunday in which Walker scored 20 points, made one more push as Zellous hit a jumper ahead of Walker's three free throws that cut the deficit to nine points. The Vols certainly aren't accustomed to such slim leads in first- or second-round games -- they are 40-0 in such games in NCAA Tournament history and 94-19 under Summitt in tournament games.

Tennessee enjoyed a fast start -- something Summitt wanted to neutralize that Pitt home-court advantage -- by seizing leads of 7-2, 19-7 and 28-14. Later in the first half, the Vols put together a quick 6-0 run that made it 38-21.