ATHENS, Ga. - She was Tennessee's Herculean scorer and a tireless rebounder, too.
And when it mattered the most to the Lady Vols in a women's basketball struggle with Georgia on Sunday night, Candace Parker was a cheerleader.
She was sitting on the bench, taking a rare breather, when the Big Orange cavalry arrived in the form of UT's guards. With Parker watching, Shannon Bobbitt and Alexis Hornbuckle collaborated on a 10-point scoring swing. After Bobbitt's drive and dish to Vicki Baugh for a basket, a shaky two-point lead had ballooned to 12 with 9:26 remaining. Tennessee was on its way to a 72-63 victory before an announced crowd of 10,523 at Stegeman Coliseum.
"I was really excited,'' Parker said.
She ought to have been relieved as well. The All-American forward carried a heavy load across the first 29 minutes for No. 3 Tennessee (27-2, 13-1 SEC), scoring 27 of her game-high 30 points. She scored 13 straight at one point in the second half. Parker was holding off No. 22 Georgia (21-8, 8-6) almost single-handedly on the scoreboard. She needed a break from her backcourt mates and they finally delivered.
"I definitely challenged them to step up and be aggressive,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said. "I think athletically we had an advantage with our quickness. We didn't take advantage of that in the first half. We were passive."
Bobbitt, who had two points at halftime, finished with 15. She punctuated her second half with a killer crossover dribble and a driving layup with 19 seconds left. Hornbuckle scored six of her eight points after halftime. Reserve guard Alberta Auguste added a timely rebound basket.
Tennessee scored 46 points in the second half, shooting 63.3 percent from the floor (19-for-30). The accuracy made up for its 8-for-20 misfiring at the free-throw line (40 percent) and its 2-for-10 shooting on 3-pointers.
The Lady Vols also had a 38-29 rebounding advantage. Nicky Anosike grabbed 11 and Parker had nine. The disparity irked Georgia coach Andy Landers.
"Our post players got kicked on the boards,'' he said. "We were puppy-dogging them, following them around, watching them catch balls."
Despite having three-double figure scorers, Georgia couldn't build on its 29-26 halftime lead. Christy Marshall led the Lady Bulldogs with 15 points. Tasha Humphrey scored 13 and Megan Darrah added 10.
Former William Blount High star Angela Puleo scored nine points and added three assists.
The game began as a match-up of old rivals and fresh motivations. Georgia was playing for a No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in this week's SEC tournament in Nashville. Tennessee was thinking NCAA tournament and maintaining its worthiness for a No. 1 regional seed.
Parker scored 12 of her points in the first half as she warmed up to Georgia's defensive strategy of deploying a solo defender on her.
"Their defense kind of threw us off at the start,'' she said. "They're usually sagging and doubling. My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball."
She was even greater, setting up shop either in or around the foul lane. From there, she scored six consecutive baskets during a three-plus minute stretch of the second half. She added a free throw with 13:03 left for 13 consecutive points.
"When she establishes a low block presence, we're a different basketball team,'' Summitt said. "She worked hard at it. She was getting a lot of contact, but I felt she was very persistent."
A prelude to the guards' scoring flurry was a Bobbitt three-pointer with 11:47 left, UT's first trey of the game.
Hornbuckle's driving jumper and six more points by Bobbitt, along with her assist, gave Tennessee a 56-44 lead.
Auguste, who scored eight points, scored her biggest basket with 3:58 left, converting a Parker miss into a tough rebound basket and a 64-56 lead.
"It was a huge play,'' Parker said. "(Alberta) stepped up. Coach had been harping on offensive rebounds. So she did a great job of cleaning up the glass."
Tennessee, the No. 2 seed at the SEC tournament, open its play against the Florida-South Carolina first-round winner at 3:30 Friday.