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, celebrate the national title—the Lady Vols' eighth—she had just helped Tennessee win by beating Stanford 64-48 on April 8. In the hyped showdown between Parker and Stanford's star guard Candice Wiggins—Ace versus Ice—Ace had prevailed. But so, too, had ice. The woman who had been Parker's shadow for the last week was at her side as usual, wielding giant bags of the cold white stuff. "Don't fail me now," trainer Jenny Moshak said to Parker. "You love me, and this is why. Ice and go, baby, ice and go!"
And so the Lady Vols' 6' 4" junior superstar submitted once more to Moshak's ministrations, allowing an enormous outcropping of ice to be attached to her left shoulder. In the week since Parker had dislocated that shoulder twice during the game against Texas A&M in the Oklahoma City Regional final, she and Moshak had been inseparable. At their hotel in Tampa, they stayed up till 2:30 a.m. doing range-of-motion, strengthening and swimmers' exercises. Parker also got hooked up to various machines to treat pain and swelling. "Media commitments aside, we've been together," said Moshak.
Parker's only other breaks from rehab were the awards ceremonies that peppered her schedule in Tampa. Saturday morning: pick up a State Farm All-America award, her third. Saturday afternoon: pick up the AP Player of the Year Award, her first. Monday: attend a lunch to pick up the Naismith Trophy, her second.
Otherwise her attachment to Moshak was so complete that Parker joked that the NCAA could have saved some money if it had just given the two the same room. Fortunately, says Parker, who got to know Moshak well when the latter helped Parker rehab a surgically repaired knee during her freshman year, "we never run out of conversation. We talk about life, elections, politics, TV shows."
Conference rival LSU, the team Tennessee had faced in the semifinal on April 6, had not been a popular topic of conversation. The Lady Tigers had embarrassed the Lady Vols in Knoxville 78-62 on Valentine's Day, when the home team played poorly. A terse team meeting with the coaches and a players-only heart-to-heart followed. "That was probably what really turned this team around," says Pat Summitt. "They were different from that day forward."
The Lady Vols had exacted some revenge by beating LSU 61-55 in the SEC tournament championship game. But on this Sunday, the Lady Tigers had motivation beyond winning the rubber match. In four straight previous trips to the Final Four, they had never won a game. Whatever her inspiration, 6' 6" senior Sylvia Fowles, who had won the SEC Player of the Year award, was sure to be trouble for a one-armed Parker.
Moshak's plan was to put the star's injured shoulder in a range-limiting brace and to have her wear a long-sleeved shirt over it, the logic being that "if you can't see it, then you won't think about it," explained Parker.
The deceptive measure did nothing to help Parker's shooting. She clanged the game's opening jumper, sparking a barrage of wayward shots from both teams, which combined to make just two of their first 23 shots. The beautiful offensive display put on by Stanford in beating Connecticut in the first semifinal was a distant memory by the time Tennessee finally broke into double figures, nearly 10 minutes into the game. With the Lady Vols shooting 14.3% from the arc and the Lady Tigers hitting 33% of their free throws, the half finally ended with Tennessee clinging to a 22-18 lead. Parker had shoveled in just four of the 15 field goals she had attempted. But she seemed to have little trouble rebounding, grabbing nine boards by intermission.
Tennessee built a 10-point lead with 11 minutes to go, but LSU pared it down. After Lady Tigers senior point guard Erica White made a layup with 43 seconds left, Tennessee's margin had dropped to 45-44. Several seconds later Alexis Hornbuckle, who had missed all seven of her field goal attempts, fouled White on an inbounds pass, sending the Tigers' best free throw shooter to the line. She made both, giving LSU a 46-45 lead with seven seconds to go.
Though Parker had only hit 6 of 27 shots for the game and had winced with every contact to her left arm, she was tabbed to get the inbounds pass and do what she could to create a shot. She found little resistance as she drove the length of the floor. As she drew a defender in the paint, she dished to senior Nicky Anosike, whose chip-in was deflected. The horror of ending her career—and Tennessee's season—on that shot hadn't had time to register before Hornbuckle, swooping in on the left, grabbed the rebound and made the game-winning putback, her only points of the night.