All-American Candace Parker was cleared yesterday by Tennessee team doctors to play against Louisiana State in the Final Four, two days after dislocating her left shoulder.
Parker will wear a shoulder brace in the national semifinal game Sunday.
Team trainer Jenny Moshak said Parker, who shoots with her right hand, has good range of motion and strength with her left arm. Parker dislocated her shoulder twice during the Lady Vols' win over Texas A&M Tuesday, a game in which she returned from injury to finish with 26 points.
Parker scored 28 points against LSU (31-5) in the Southeastern Conference championship game. Her defense is also an important element for Tennessee (34-2).
Freshman guard Angie Bjorklund said Parker's blocking ability, guard Alexis Hornbuckle's stealing prowess, and Nicky Anosike's defensive rebounding will get the team to its second straight title game appearance.
"I think that the offense, it needs to come from our defense and our intensity on defense in getting steals, getting rebounds and easy layups," Bjorklund said.
Bjorklund is one of several Lady Volunteers struggling from the field, and Hornbuckle said Tennessee cannot rely on its normally excellent shooting skills in the Final Four.
"It always seems to trickle up on us in postseason: Our shooting percentage just seems to go down," Hornbuckle said.
Coach Pat Summitt said she thought Tennessee's poor shooting hurt the team mentally in a 74-64 win over Notre Dame in the regional semifinal, a game in which the Lady Vols trailed at halftime and needed Parker's 34 points and 13 rebounds to win.
Summitt said every team that's good enough to make it to the Final Four knows how to turn up the defensive heat on opponents. On top of that, players often are overwhelmed by the pressure of needing to win to advance.
"I don't think you're as relaxed offensively," Summitt said. "You can try to talk them through it and encourage them. I feel like a cheerleader during postseason more than a coach sometimes."
Summitt said she gave Parker the option to rest yesterday while her teammates went through a light practice before catching their plane to Tampa. Parker opted to practice to try out the new shoulder brace.
"It felt really good on the floor getting some shots up, getting used to the brace," she said. "I was going to play, but you know it was a relief to be able to play and get the OK from the doctors."
Summitt thinks it's just that kind of determination that will earn the Lady Vols an attempt at their eighth national title and first opportunity for back-to-back titles since 1998.
"It's her toughness, it's her focus, it's her desire to win another championship," she said. "I marvel at how mentally strong Candace is."
Niya Butts, an associate coach at Kentucky who played on NCAA champion teams at Tennessee in 1997 and 1998, is the new coach at Arizona.
Butts replaces Joan Bonvicini, who was fired last month after coaching the Wildcats for 17 seasons. Kentucky finished 17-16 and made a school-record fourth straight postseason appearance, playing in the NIT. Before joining the Kentucky staff in 2003, Butts coached at Michigan State for one year and Tennessee Tech for two.