NASHVILLE - Tennessee put a lot of time and effort into an SEC women's basketball tournament game Saturday night.
The payoff was a 63-48 semifinal victory over Vanderbilt before a tournament-record crowd of 12,897 at the Sommet Center. The victory advanced second-seeded Tennessee (29-2) to tonight's championship game (TV: ESPN2, 7:30) against top-seeded LSU (27-4).
Candace Parker scored a game-high 25 points. Alexis Hornbuckle scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded four assists. Nicky Anosike grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
The aforementioned Lady Vols all played 35 or more minutes. Reserve guard Alberta Auguste logged 32.
Parker's 36 minutes were hard minutes. She picked herself off the court several times, particularly in the second half when the game against the third-seeded Commodores (23-8) became more gritty in nature.
By comparison, LSU was on cruise control down the stretch of its 66-49 semifinal victory over Kentucky.
Did the Lady Vols' investment in Saturday's outcome borrow from tonight's effort? Hornbuckle, who played 39 minutes, said that she will be asking for some divine assistance.
"I'm going to say a little prayer,'' she said. "I'm going to pray that my legs come back."
Hornbuckle already was working on her recovery in the locker room with ice bags taped to both knees. The ice had something to do with Saturday's game, too.
"It was a tough game,'' Hornbuckle said. "It wasn't as cut and dry as we wanted it to be. You're not going to get that from Vanderbilt."
The game played out like two games in one. The first was geared toward offense. Vanderbilt ran a clinic at the outset, hitting five of its first eight shots and recording an assist on each basket.
To make matters worse, the undersized Commodores were scoring from close range as well. A rebound basket by Jennifer Risper, who finished with a team-high 14 points, gave Vanderbilt a 14-4 lead.
Tennessee's response was even stronger. Parker was the star, shooting 7-for-11 from the floor in the first half. She scored around the rim and swished a 3-point basket, her eighth of the season.
Parker's scoring show had some supporting acts. Anosike set up her teammate with a nice high-low pass and swished her own 12-footer. Shannon Bobbitt and Hornbuckle also nailed 3-pointers. UT's field-goal percentage reached 60 percent at one point and the Lady Vols looked like the Commodores with eight assists on their first 10 baskets.
UT reversed its early deficit and led by 10 points on two first-half occasions before settling for a 37-28 halftime lead.
The second half turned defensive in nature. Again UT had the upper hand, holding the Commodores to 20 points. UT coach Pat Summitt said the 6-foot-4 Anosike cast a long shadow.
"I thought Nicky Anosike had a tremendous defensive game,'' Summitt said. "Her presence made a big difference in what Vanderbilt was able to see and do."
The Commodores, who normally shoot 39.7 percent on 3-pointers, made just 2 of 17 attempts.
As bad as they were, UT was even worse, shooting 22.2 percent from the floor (6-for-27) in the second half. The Lady Vols survived at the free-throw line, hitting 12 of 15 attempts.
The Lady Vols could use some scoring from freshman sharpshooter Angie Bjorklund. But she had zero points and has just one 3-pointer for two tournament games.
"I think I need to continue to look for my shot,'' Bjorklund said. "If I miss a shot, I can't dwell on it."
In the meantime, the Lady Vols will seek rest and recuperation.
"We've been in this situation before,'' Anosike said. "Once the adrenaline starts pumping (tonight), it's not going to matter."
Naismith Finalist: Parker is one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy. The other three are LSU's Sylvia Fowles, Oklahoma's Courtney Paris and Stanford's Candice Wiggins.
The winner will be announced April 7 at the Women's Final Four in Tampa, Fla.
Parker and Paris both won the Naismith national high school trophy twice.