Larry Pratt keeps giving and giving to the Tennessee athletic department.
The latest gift from the lead donor for Pratt Pavilion, the new basketball practice facility, came in the form of a baseball analogy he offered to the Lady Vols.
By his generous standards, the contribution was relatively minor in scope. Yet Pratt's words turned out to be priceless. They resonated in Tennessee's 79-63 SEC women's basketball victory over Vanderbilt on Sunday.
"He talked about not taking short cuts and touching third base,'' UT's Candace Parker said. "Because sometimes people get to third, they see the lights, they see the people and the crowd chanting their name and they forget to go home. He gave us inspiration for this game and challenged us, told us to touch third."
Tennessee's All-American responded as if she had been given a direct order. Along with recording teams high for points (19) and rebounds (12), Parker touched all the bases nearly all the time with her effort, playing a big part in setting Tennessee's energetic tone.
"She had a presence at both ends of the floor,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said. "When she plays hard, it elevates our intensity, whether it's on the defensive end or the offensive end.
"When you get that from your best player, it has a powerful impact."
Parker, who moved into 10th place on UT's career scoring list with 1,683 points, had assistance from three other double-figure scorers. Shannon Bobbitt scored 14 points. Alexis Hornbuckle and Alex Fuller each scored 10. Fuller was back after sitting out a game to rest her knees.
Overall, No. 2 Tennessee (16-1, 4-0 SEC) shot 50 percent from the floor (29-for-58), which took some doing considering the Lady Vols were 3-for-14 on 3-pointers. They also had a 39-33 rebounding advantage. Their 25 defensive rebounds nearly matched their entire total of 28 against Kentucky on Thursday night.
Vanderbilt (13-6, 2-2) was led by Christina Wirth, who scored a game-high 24 points. Freshman Hannah Tuomi had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Along with Pratt's advice, the Lady Vols had other factors working in their favor. There was the matinee turnout of 19,666, which was announced not only as Tennessee's biggest crowd this season but the biggest crowd of the season for the women's game.
"We had a good crowd,'' Hornbuckle said, "and we wanted to give the fans a fun game."
Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb pointed out that the Lady Vols also benefitted from the 29 points they were credited with scoring courtesy of Commodores turnovers, along with the 18 points UT scored at the free-throw line.
"Sixty some of their points I think we gave them,'' Balcomb said. "We struggled against their defense. We didn't pressure enough and dictate enough, which is what they did to us."
After a lethargic first half against Kentucky, the Lady Vols were bent on bolting from the starting blocks against the Commodores. Summitt watched video with Bobbitt and extorted Tennessee's point guard to pick up her pace.
"We were looking at my tempo, my energy for pushing the ball,'' Bobbitt said. "I felt like I was going fast, but obviously I was going slow like a turtle."
On defense, the Lady Vols used their press aggressively and employed trapping tactics at all points of the court.
"I think we want to put teams away early,'' Bobbitt said. "We have an athletic team so why not press the whole game? We may get tired and have breakdowns here and there, but we're good for it."
Vanderbilt didn't go down early or that easily. Despite an early 8-0 lead, Tennessee's advantage didn't reach double figures for another eight-plus minutes. The lead reached its apex at 60-38 with 7:36 left, which was just after Parker had finished her day's work.
She packed two of her best highlights into a two-play sequence of the first half. First she fought through traffic for an offensive rebound and putback basket. She was fouled on the play and yelled "And one" loud enough to be heard in South Knoxville.
On the ensuing defensive play, she hounded Vanderbilt's Jennifer Risper across the court, eventually prying the basketball loose and swooping in for a layup.
In the second half, Parker, who had three steals and three blocks, resisted a shot fake from Commodores 5-foot-11 point guard Jence Rhoads and thwarted her shot attempt before the ball left Rhoads' hands. The play was recorded as a block but it looked like a steal as well.
Tennessee went to its bench down the stretch and Wirth took advantage, scoring 11 of her points in the final 7:10. The Commodores' forward played some at guard to better utilize her hot shooting. She had six of Vanderbilt's eight 3-pointers.
"Maybe our scouting report defense could get better,'' Summitt said. "We let Wirth get a lot of touches, a lot of open looks."