WEST LAFAYETTE,Ind. — Candace Parker pulled on her warm-up top and found a seat on the bench early in the second half of Tennessee’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament opener Sunday night.
This wasn’t a case of the Lady Vols’ star player checking out early in a first-round Oklahoma City Regional rout of Oral Roberts. Instead, Parker was saddled with four fouls.
As expected, top-seed UT won 94-55 at Mackey Arena and advanced to a second-round 7 p.m. tipoff Tuesday (TV: ESPN2) against host Purdue, a 66-59 winner over Utah.
Still, Tennessee’s night didn’t always play out in typical first-round fashion. While the Lady Vols never had to rush Parker back into the game, they had to hustle a littler longer and a little harder than usual against a No. 16 seed.
Undermanned Oral Roberts (19-14) withstood a key player loss and kept the deficit respectable well into the second half. The rout wasn’t on in earnest until the final eight minutes.
“In the first half we played like we had a two-week break,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said. “Second half we had much better effort. It was hard for us to get in a rhythm.”
Angie Bjorklund led five-double scorers with 16 points for Tennessee (31-2). Parker scored 14. Alexis Hornbuckle and Alberta Auguste had 13.
Hornbuckle had seven assists, including a slick behind-the-back pass to Bjorklund for a layup.
UT’s 45-22 rebounding advantage was led by Alex Fuller with eight.
Jenny Hardin scored a team-high 16 for Oral Roberts.
Already overmatched, Oral Roberts suffered a tough blow just moments after the opening tip. Guard Mariana Camargo tried to outhustle Tennessee point guard Shannon Bobbitt for the basketball and slipped on a UT cheerleaders’ sign that was lying on the floor behind the baseline. Camargo, the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.2 points per game, went down with an apparent left knee injury.
The 5-foot-10 junior immediately was helped off the court. She returned with 11:58 left in the first half but only with the aid of crutches. Her left leg was heavily wrapped and, she likely will undergo surgery.
“We had to really wing it,’’ Oral Roberts coach Jerry Finkbeiner said. “Everything we ran for 39 minutes and 55 seconds was improvised.”
Despite losing Camargo, the Golden Eagles didn’t lose their composure, hanging within 48-34 at halftime.
Their problem wasn’t shooting. They were hitting at a 56.5 percent clip at the break (13 for 23), including 5 for 9 on 3-pointers. A Rachel Watman trey splashed down from at least five feet beyond the line.
Their problem was hanging onto the ball. The Golden Eagles had 17 turnovers in the first half and finished with 25.
Parker scored 12 of her points before sitting with two fouls 8:18 before halftime.
“I don’t think it was 18 minutes by design,’’ said Parker, referring to her playing minutes. “I got in a little foul trouble.”
Every Lady Vol played before the break. While everyone but Bobbitt scored, spreading out the playing minutes likely contributed to Oral Roberts’ hot shooting, as well as 11 Tennessee turnovers.
“I felt we came out and just didn’t defend,’’ Summitt said. “We weren’t in the mood to play out of our press.’’
The Lady Vols weren’t particularly inspired to pry open Oral Roberts’ zone defense either. They started out bombing away over the alignment before passing into it to set up their shots.
“We had to keep moving with their zone,’’ Bjorklund said. “We couldn’t hit our shots (early).’’
The Lady Vols finished with 47 percent field goal accuracy (31 for 66). They shot 41.4 percent on 3-pointers (12 for 29).
“We’re going to face a lot of zone in this tournament,’’ Parker said. “We got a lot of inside touches and that opened things up for us.”
A good example of Oral Roberts’ resilience came early in the second half. After Tennessee’s Nicky Anosike set a hard screen on Watman, Oral Roberts’ Janae Voelker responded moments later by laying out Bobbitt with a screen. UT’s point guard went to the locker room but returned to the bench shortly thereafter and played down the stretch.
Dan Fleser covers Tennessee Lady Vols basketball. He may be reached at 865-342-6288.