The directive came from Pat Summitt and it was clear.
At halftime Sunday against Kentucky, the Tennessee women's basketball coach essentially told star player Candace Parker: Go to the rim.
The resulting dramatics were all Parker's. The Lady Vols All-American went to the rim and beyond for the seventh dunk of her career in Tennessee's 79-51 victory over the Wildcats at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Parker chased down a lead pass from Alberta Auguste and turned to find herself alone on the baseline with no Wildcats in the vicinity.
"I really didn't think about it that much,'' Parker said. "I turned around and nobody was there. I was like 'OK' "
The one-handed jam with 8:20 remaining was a welcome highlight for the announced crowd of 19,259. Before Parker threw down, the fans had been watching a game that was more throwback in nature.
The dunk was Parker's first since a Jan. 6 game last season against Connecticut in Hartford, Conn. She hadn't dunked at home since Dec. 20 last season versus West Virginia. That time she drew a technical foul for popping her jersey afterward.
With the crowd still buzzing, Alexis Hornbuckle produced a worthy follow-up. UT's senior guard corralled a loose ball, hurdled teammate Vicki Baugh and went from the foul lane to the opposite basket in a matter of moments, scoring a driving layup.
The actual points were more useful to the Lady Vols than the style points. The back-to-back baskets pushed the Lady Vols' lead past 20 points for the first time. They didn't do as much for their shooting percentage, which needed more help to finally inch above 40 percent.
Part of the problem was Kentucky's scrappy defense and rebounding, which No. 2 Tennessee (20-1, 7-0 SEC) got a taste of in the teams' first meeting, a 65-40 Lady Vols' victory in Lexington, Ky., Jan. 17.
Summitt also pointed out that Parker and Hornbuckle weren't there usual selves in the first half. "I said we go as Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle go,'' Summitt said. "They have to bring intensity from the opening tip to the last possession. We saw what happens when they do that."
The Lady Vols followed up a 32-point first half with 47 in the final 20 minutes. They could've done more damage, considering they had 23 more shot attempts than Kentucky in the second half (43-20).
Along with the dunk, the difference in Parker was 12 of her game-high 20 points in the second half and 6-for-8 shooting from the floor.
"Coach Summitt told me to go strong to the hoop,'' Parker said. "She said I needed to go inside the paint and take over and stop shooting fadeaways."
Hornbuckle's response was more pronounced. She scored all of her 13 points and grabbed all of her six rebounds in the second half. With four more assists, she topped off her team high of six. She added two steals and finished with three, moving within 15 of passing UT's all-time steals leader Bridgette Gordon, who had 333.
"In the first half, I don't know what it was,'' Hornbuckle said. "It was like I didn't have any energy, which is rare for myself. It was very frustrating. So, of course, Coach yelled at me. It woke me up a little bit."
While Tennessee was rousing its key players, Kentucky (11-11, 5-3) was figuring out what to do without starting point guard Amber Smith, who went down with a right knee injury in the final second of the first half.
UT's Auguste was chasing Smith and bumped into her as Smith was going up for a driving shot. The 5-foot-5 freshman ended up on the floor and had to be helped to the bench.
"I know she did a hop step,'' Auguste said. "She was yelling before I hit her."
The first prognosis for Smith was a sprained knee. The initial adjustment was to move starting guard Samantha Mahoney to the point position.
The Wildcats already had 19 turnovers with Smith. Without her, Tennessee took even more defensive chances and gathered 11 of their 19 steals in the second half. Kentucky finished with 36 turnovers, the most by a UT opponent this season.
"They were gambling,'' Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "They were not doing a lot of fundamentally sound stuff there. Everyone was rolling up on the ball, and we couldn't make very good passes. It was a tough situation."
Mahoney scored a team-high 18 points and shot 6-for-9 from the floor. But she also had seven turnovers, four as the emergency point guard.
"With them cranking up the pressure and really getting out in the passing lanes, it was disturbing to our offense,'' she said.
Auguste benefitted from the circumstances, recording four of her game-high six steals after halftime. She had 11 points and four assists, two days after suffering a strained left biceps.
"I'm a warrior; I'm back,'' Auguste said. "I got hurt. I fought threw it."
Dan Fleser covers Lady Vols basketball. He may be reached at 865-342-6288.