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Art of motivation

Parker, driven Lady Vols top Stanford for eighth title

Posted: Wednesday April 9, 2008 2:14AM; Updated: Wednesday April 9, 2008 10:15AM
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Candace Parker and the Lady Vols cut down the nets for the second-straight year.
Candace Parker and the Lady Vols cut down the nets for the second-straight year.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Candace Parker had just returned from the press conference at the St. Pete Times Forum and she wanted to throw her arms in the air, whoop it up, somehow celebrate the national title -- the Lady Vols' eighth and Parker's second -- she had just helped Tennessee win by beating Stanford 64-48. But the woman who has been her shadow for the last week was at her side as usual, wielding giant bags of ice. "Don't fail me now," said trainer Jenny Moshak. "You love me, and this is why. Ice and go, baby, ice and go!"

And so the Lady Vols' 6-foot-4 senior superstar submitted once again to the Moshak's ministrations. Since dislocating her left shoulder twice during the game against Texas A&M in the Oklahoma City Regional Final, Parker and Moshak have been together virtually around the clock. They stayed up till 2:30 a.m. doing range of motion exercises, strengthening exercises, swimmers' exercises. Parker also got hooked up to various machines to treat pain and swelling. "Media commitments aside, we've been together," says Moshak.

Clearly it was time well spent. On Tuesday night, just 48 hours after shooting 6-for-27 in an ugly 47-46 win over LSU in the national semifinal, Parker grabbed nine rebounds and went 5-for-10 from the field and 7-of-11 from the free-throw line for 17 points, earning the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player for the second year in a row. In evaluating Moshak's impact on Tennessee's tournament run, assistant Dean Lockwood said, "If they had two MVP trophies, Jenny should get one."

And if they had three, the third might go, collectively, to all the writers who predicted that Tennessee couldn't handle Stanford's Candice Wiggins and the "well-oiled machine," as Summitt had put it, that was the Cardinal offense. In beating two No. 1 seeds, Maryland and top-ranked Connecticut, by an average of nine points to reach the championship game, Stanford had become the tournament darling and Wiggins, who was averaging 27.4 points through the first five games of the tournament, was everybody's favorite superstar. The Lady Vols had counted how many experts had predicted a win for Stanford -- "a lot!" said Alexis Hornbuckle -- and they were hacked off.

One article they took personally, after reading it before the game and again at halftime, said the Lady Vols could not hold the Cardinal less than 50 points. To add fuel to the fire, the assistant coaches plastered highlighted, underlined and italicized press clippings (helpfully provided by sports information director Debby Jennings) to a mannequin. In the locker room before the game Lockwood took a baseball bat and smashed the effigy to bits. "What motivated us was the negativity, everybody doubting us," said Hornbuckle, one of five senior starters. "Saying everything we can't do and how great a team Stanford was. And they are a great team. Man, they were clicking on all cylinders coming into this game."

Then, the Cardinal encountered a highly motivated Tennessee squad, and the wheels fell off. It didn't help, probably, that Stanford had beaten the Lady Vols, 73-69 in overtime, for the first time in 11 years back in December in Palo Alto, ruining their Christmas. ("I can imagine the three days after that were hell for them," said an oddly sympathetic Stanford guard JJ Hones in between sobs after the game.) "We did a lot of soul searching," said Parker. "I think it was a defining moment in our season. With the next two games being versus DePaul and Notre Dame, I think those were the two best games we played all season. We raised the bar. We looked ourselves in the mirror and asked, is this who we want to be?"

On Tuesday, the Lady Vols were a different team. Unlike December, they executed their scouting-report defense, shutting down Stanford's high-low game and sticking to the perimeter players like fly paper. Alberta Auguste, assigned to shadow Wiggins, had vowed to "follow her to the restroom" if she had to. She helped hold Wiggins to 14 points, half her tournament average. More problematic for the Cardinal was their 25 turnovers, twice their tournament average of 12.5, and their 3-for-11 shooting from three-point range. "We struggled in basically every facet of the game," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.

The Lady Vols, meanwhile, did what they do best: The defended, they rebounded, they won another national championship. Moshak did what she does best and kept her charges functional. Parker will likely be drafted No. 1 by the L.A. Sparks in Wednesday's WNBA draft, but she will be in Moshak's care as long as she wants to be. (Moshak still treats players who graduated years ago.)

In any event Moshak has something new to lose sleep over: With 7:14 left to play in the game, freshman Vicki Baugh scored on a layup and then fell to the ground holding her knee. "We're calling it a sprained knee, but we'll evaluate it more tomorrow," Moshak said with a small sigh. She knows how she's going to celebrate this Tennessee title, the seventh she's helped secure. "I'm going to get some sleep," she said.