TAMPA, Fla. – With the game in hand and a minute left, Candace Parker went to the Tennessee bench for the final time, holding up four fingers on each hand to signify the eight titles the Lady Vols have won.
Parker came to Tennessee four years ago with one goal in mind: Restore the Lady Vols back to the Rocky Top.
A bruised and braced Parker scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help Tennessee capture its eighth NCAA women's basketball title with a 64-48 victory over Stanford on Tuesday night. The Lady Vols also became the first repeat champs since Connecticut won three straight from 2002-04.
"One is disputable, but two, you can't stumble onto two national championships, so we're pretty good.
"We got two championships together, Parker said. "It's a remarkable feeling to walk off the court for the last time and hug your coach. I'm completely different than I was when I came in."
The Lady Vols will lose the starting five to graduation, but they have left a remarkable legacy. Before the back-to-back championships, Tennessee had gone nine years without a title.
"I'm just really proud, and obviously it's a happy but sad time with the seniors leaving," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "I will always have tremendous respect for the mark they left on our program."
Parker will leave the Lady Vols (36-2) with a year of eligibility remaining, but has accomplished one of her goals by winning multiple national titles.
"You know, it's funny because some playeranford hadn't reached the Final Four since 1997 or advanced to the championship game since the '92 team.
"I'm sad that it's over because of how much I love this program, this institution, this team, and my coaches, teammates," Wiggins said, breaking into tears. "It's that amazing. This season, I could not ever have dreamed of this, so it's more than I could ever ask for."
She came in averaging 27.4 points in the tournament and opened the game with a 3-pointer, but couldn't find an open look after that. The All-American finished 6-for-16 from the field and left to a standing ovation with just over a minute left in her college career.
Parker struggled with her shooting in the semifinals when she went 6-for-27 from the field, but gutted out the championship game — not letting her injured shoulder bother her. For the second straight game, the All-American wore a long-sleeve shirt under her uniform to try, as she said, to not focus on the injury. Underneath Parker's shirt was a Sully brace.
"It goes across the shoulder and across the body with a strap system that limits her motion," trainer Jenny Moshak said.
Unlike earlier games in the tournament when Parker had to carry the Lady Vols, her supporting cast came through against Stanford. Shannon Bobbitt scored 13 points and Nicky Anosike added 12 points, eight rebounds and six steals for the Lady Vols.
"They came out with a great mentality to play hard, especially on the defensive end," Summitt said. "On offense, we got more people involved, but it was our defense that got it done. I'm so proud of our seniors, I'm going to miss them."
Bobbitt scored all of her points in the first half as the Lady Vols jumped out to a 37-29 advantage. Trailing by one early, Tennessee used a 13-4 run to take a 17-9 lead midway through the half. Bobbitt hit two 3-pointers and made a nifty layup to cap the spurt. The teams traded baskets before two free throws by Bobbitt gave the Lady Vols a 35-25 lead — their biggest of the half.
She also harassed Stanford into 14 turnovers by the break. The Cardinal looked tight on offense, committing more turnovers in the first half than they did in the semifinal win over UConn. They finished with 25 for the game.
"We did not play well. We did not handle the pressure well," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "The turnovers absolutely killed us."
Jayne Appel finished with 16 points to lead the Cardinal, whose 23-game winning streak — the longest in the nation — ended. The Pac-10 champs hadn't lost since dropping consecutive road games to UCLA and USC in the first week of January.
The victory redeemed the Lady Vols' 73-69 overtime loss to the Cardinal when the teams met Dec. 22 at Stanford.
Tennessee is 8-5 in championship games after barely making it to No. 13. The Vols won their other titles in 1987, '89, '91, '96, '97, and '98.