U.S. national team rides Taurasi's 26 points to victory over Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee fans greeted former nemesis Diana Taurasi with boos when she returned to the Lady Vols' court with the U.S. national team.
The former Connecticut standout reminded them just why they dislike her so much.
Taurasi had 26 points and seven rebounds to lead the American team to an 83-72 victory over top-ranked Tennessee in an exhibition game on Sunday.
"The bigger the game, the bigger Diana shows up," U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. "It doesn't matter that we were playing in Connecticut [on Friday], she couldn't wait to come to Knoxville. She was hoping she was going to get booed."
The 6-foot guard-forward won three national championships with Tennessee's top rival and helped the Huskies to a 7-2 record over the Lady Vols during her college career.
Lisa Leslie added 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in her third game back for the national team since giving birth in June. Sue Bird had 11 points and Seimone Augustus added 10 points.
Tennessee's Candace Parker, who played with the national team during the summer and helped the U.S. qualify for the 2008 Olympics, said the fact Leslie could dominate on the court just months after giving birth proved that "women are amazing."
"I've watched her play since I was 10 or 11," Parker said. "That's my hero."
The national team led by 12 points with 5:48 in the second half.
Tennessee then went on a 9-0 run that ended when a steal and down-court pass by Alexis Hornbuckle as she was falling out of bounds that ended up in the hands of Shannon Bobbitt, who hit a 3 to draw the Lady Vols to 73-70 with 3:48 left.
But it was as close as Tennessee would get as the national team pulled away on free throws by Taj McWilliams-Franklin and field goals by Leslie, Taurasi and Augustus.
"Those were some big girls -- a lot bigger than we're used to," Hornbuckle said.
Parker was mostly quiet during the first half, but had 17 second-half points. She finished with a team-high 21 points and seven rebounds.
Freshman Angie Bjorklund helped keep the Lady Vols in the game in the first half with her outside shooting and finished with 13 points.
The Lady Vols kept it close through the middle of the first half, tying the score three times on 3-pointers from Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone and a 2-point shot inside by Smallbone that caused her to lose her shoe.
But the national team broke the game open after going on a 21-6 run to put the U.S. team up 36-24 with a little over a minute before halftime and entered the half up 38-29.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said she expected her team, which is coming off a national title, to play better, even against a bigger, more physical and more experienced team.
"I told my basketball team we weren't here just to compete with them, we wanted to beat them," she said.
The national team began an eight-game college tour with a 90-73 victory over Maryland on Wednesday night and beat UConn on Friday 90-74. The Americans also will play Baylor, Arizona State, Texas A&M, Southern Cal and Stanford.
Kara Lawson, a former Lady Vol now playing with the U.S. team, said all three college teams the national squad has faced has been talented and challenging.
"But having Candace, that's the one difference for Tennessee, having a player of that caliber," said Lawson, who received a warm reception by the home crowd but failed to score in the game.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press