LEXINGTON, Ky. - In the end, Tennessee won by 25 points and Candace Parker scored 23.
Tennessee's 65-40 SEC women's basketball victory over Kentucky Thursday night might have played out to a typical finish, but it wasn't a foregone conclusion.
Second-ranked UT (15-1, 3-0 SEC) struggled to make shots, grab rebounds and achieve overall consistency. The final difference was cobbled together in short order during the final 61<0x2044>2 minutes.
During that time, the Lady Vols put together a 17-2 scoring sprint to the final buzzer. Parker scored six of the points, including two jumpers off the dribble in the lane that seemed to bleed the last bit of fight out of the Wildcats (8-9, 2-1).
"I thought when she really asserted herself in the second half, there wasn't a lot we had for an answer,'' Mitchell said.
Parker's 7-for-8 shooting after halftime helped the Lady Vols salvage their wayward shooting touch and finish at 50 percent (27 for 54) from the floor. Her game-high seven rebounds kept the Lady Vols from getting ravaged on the boards, where they were outrebounded, 36-28.
Guard Alexis Hornbuckle eventually kept Parker from getting lonely on the stat sheet, joining in her double figures when a turnaround basket with 4:58 left gave her 10 points.
The Lady Vols also waited until the home stretch to hit their lone 3-pointer. Angie Bjorklund converted from behind the arc with four minutes left. Until then, a 317-game stretch of at least one 3-pointer - a streak dating to a game against Florida on Jan. 21, 1999 - was in jeopardy.
Tennessee was preoccupied with avoiding another streak. Leading 27-19 at halftime, the Lady Vols were desperate enough for motivation that they reconsidered their last visit to Lexington two years ago, which ended in a 66-63 loss at Rupp Arena.
"We realize a lot was made out of that,'' Parker said. "Obviously a lot of us remember being on the court, watching them celebrate. We came out in the second half (thinking) we can change that. We don't have to see that again. We found the energy."
These weren't the same Wildcats as before. Only two starters from the aforementioned upset lined up for Thursday's opening tip. One of them - center Sarah Elliott - was doing well just to be on the court after suffering a knee injury last Sunday against Mississippi State and being on crutches as late as Tuesday night.
"It was unbelievable that she was able to turn it around that quickly,'' Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.
No matter, one of the new Wildcats, freshman point guard Amber Smith, introduced herself by compensating for her five turnovers with nine points and six rebounds. The 5-foot-5 Smith measured up nicely in her first crack at UT, especially against her 5-2 counterpart, Shannon Bobbitt.
"I didn't know I was taller than her to tell the truth," Smith said. "I was thinking about posting her up."
Bobbitt reflected UT's struggles with four points on 2- for-8 shooting and zero assists. She ended the game on the bench, soaking her left thumb after getting her fingernail bent back.
"She was in a little bit of pain,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said.
The Lady Vols were flirting with a little bit of trouble until a defensive play by Hornbuckle swung the game's momentum decidedly in their favor. With the Wildcats trailing 44-34, leading scorer Samantha Mahoney (12 points) stole the basketball and took off toward the basket. Hornbuckle, who played 38 minutes, got back, resisted a head fake and stripped the ball loose. In an instant, two precious points because a turnover instead.
"That sparked a run,'' Parker said. "Like I said, we needed to find energy from something and we found it from that."
And the Lady Vols finally found a typical ending in the process.
Notebook: First-year Kentucky men's coach Billy Gillispie visited the Lady Vols' shooting practice Thursday and introduced himself to Summitt. … As planned, Lady Vols forward Alex Fuller was held out of the game to rest her achy knees.